Helping companies worldwide to remain open with Ultra-WidebandFollow article
Many employers, including those producing a physical product or providing essential services, have had no choice but to try to maintain normal operations from the very start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Others have had the relative freedom of choice – office-based companies for example, who must weigh up for themselves the merits of returning to the normal workspace vs. continuing home working.
For companies in either camp, COVID-19 safety measures including the use of PPE or tech-based solutions, or layout changes, are not a sliding scale in the sense that other business investments are. The issue is more black and white – staff are either properly protected, or they aren’t. A business is either safe to reopen, or it isn’t. This is the value decision organisations need to make: will the gains from resuming normal operations outweigh the cost?
This was the context in which Pathfindr considered how they could use existing expertise in industrial asset tracking to develop a solution that could cost-effectively support businesses in reopening or remaining open.
The design pathway – the importance of accuracy and reliability
Ben Sturgess is the CTO of Pathfindr “We considered a range of ideas, and our initial R&D route was to develop a prototype for a device to reduce the risk of face touching. Users would wear sensors on the wrist and neck, and an alert would sound based on proximity between the two. We took the view that those still operating in their workplace, as usual, namely health services, construction workers, supermarkets, factories, etc, could adopt the devices alongside other PPE measures.
But it quickly became clear that the requirement to socially distance was the single major obstacle for companies in continuing to operate and avoiding costly production delays or disruption to essential services. Organisations, particularly those with dynamic working environments with the regular movement of people, needed a way of ensuring compliance with government guidelines.
Pathfindr steered their R&D focus towards the development of a device that would alert any two users when they came within two metres of one another. The initial concept was based on Bluetooth, in the same way, that their industrial asset trackers are, but it was found to be unreliable in accurately identifying a precise two-metre distance.
“We explored further” continues Ben ”arriving at a solution using Ultra-Wideband (UWB), low power technology (3.5ghz radio TX frequency), which provides a full 360-degree field of detection and proved far more reliable than Bluetooth based on extensive testing.”
The Safe Distancing Assistantscans for nearby colleagues and emits a short audible alarm or vibration when wearers move within two metres of one another. Worn on a lanyard or attached by the device’s clip, the device includes a number of features to make it suitable for industrial use, including adjustable volume and an optional vibration alert, and lightweight design. The device only operates when worn to prevent unnecessarily alerts.
Supporting updated government guidance in the UK and elsewhere, which has seen social distancing recommendations eased to ‘one metre plus’, the device can be reconfigured so that the field of detection is at a range that meets current advice no matter where they are being used.
Safe Distancing Assistants are now being used by hundreds of companies worldwide, large and small, to help improve compliance.