As companies reopen their factories and inventories, some are looking for safe distance technologies to avoid contacts between workers that could pose a risk of Covid-19 transmission. Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT or Industrial Internet of Things) technology company Kinexon offers a real-time RIoT location platform for tracking sports performance and scanning the shop floor in industrial sectors using ultra-broadband technology (UWB). The company has now modified its solution to provide a low-cost, easy-to-deploy system for social detachment.
The solution consists of a wearable device that detects the locations of other people in the vicinity and flashes or alerts accordingly. The solution, called SafeZone, was designed to help companies minimize the risk of infection in their work environment, as people return to work under the new standard of maintaining several meters of space between individuals.
Workers in busy warehouses or factories often cross paths, sometimes closer and more often than is considered safe by the CDC’s pandemic guidelines. The length of time they remain close can be a measure of the likelihood of virus transmission. Instead of asking people to judge the safety of their work environment individually, companies are looking for technology that measures and alerts workers accordingly.
SafeZone is designed to automatically detect and prevent shorts with social distance. The basic version of SafeZone consists of Kinexon’s SafeTag, a bracelet with what Mehdi Bentanfous, SafeZone’s managing director, calls a sensor for reliable distance measurement. With this basic version, he says, bracelets and a charging station to recharge the bands’ batteries for each shift are all a company needs.
First, a user removes their SafeTag bracelet or badge from the charger when that person’s shift begins. The UWB device will immediately start sending a signal as the worker performs the day’s tasks, and the sensor device receives transmissions from other wristbands in the area. If SafeTag detects a transmission from another device, it will respond based on pre-configured alert settings.
Companies can set the proximity limit based on distance and time. For example, as soon as it approaches another sensor, a visual alarm – such as the LED light on the bracelet changing from blue to red – would be triggered. If this proximity occurred for longer than the acceptable time (for example, six seconds), the device would emit an audible alert that could become louder over time.
The collected data is stored in the sensor and can be loaded later in the exposure management software for tracking purposes in the event of an infection. “Anchors are not needed, just the sensor itself,” explains Bentanfous, and employees can use the sensor. “That’s why implementation is very quick and easy.”
The extended version includes Kinexon’s cloud-based RIoT software. As devices are loaded between work shifts, a Kinexon gateway receives transmissions of stored data from each unit, indicating when and how often social distance patterns were broken during their last use. This data is stored on the bracelet’s integrated circuit and is erased after the bracelet is loaded and the information is loaded on the server or in the exposure management software used for tracking.
The software can provide analysis for management use to retrain personnel, reevaluate operations within a facility and track contacts if an individual tests positive for Covid-19. According to Bentanfous, managers can see when and how often individuals have a contact event and then create ways to reduce those contacts. This data can be used for tracking contacts, he says, if the information is captured and stored. Thus, he adds: “We are not only tracking the distance between the sensors, but we can also track so that the end user can see who was exposed in case of infection”.
All information collected remains confidential, as the RIoT software does not store the names or identities of individuals. However, a company can designate managers – an HR manager, for example – who can access the identity of a tag owner, if necessary, such as after a worker has tested positive for coronavirus. The data can be accessed to see who has been in contact with that person in the past few days. The system can allow a company to serve those who may be at risk and thus avoid disturbing responses, such as shutting down an entire plant floor. If a UWB tracker is connected to a workstation, the software can link the affected individual to specific locations where he has been. This information allows a company to disinfect these areas.
Kinexon was launched in 2012. Its first application was developed for the sports industry. In a sports use case, a wireless tracker can be incorporated into each athlete’s uniform or pads to track their performance. Tracker data, which includes a gyroscope or other sensor and an accelerometer, can help identify an athlete’s positions and movements. In this way, the system can detect possible health problems or injuries, in addition to performance. In one year, the solution was expanded to factories and logistics facilities to track workers, vehicles and assets, says Bentanfous, “in order to digitize the shop floor”. Companies can use the system to analyze processes, material flows and space usage, making their facilities more efficient.
When it comes to the new use case for social detachment, says Bentanfous, the emerging solutions feature predominantly Bluetooth or other smartphone-based systems that are not as accurate as UWB. He says that Kinexon was positioned to offer a more accurate solution for the workplace, modifying its existing technology. Initially, it reached its current customers, as well as other manufacturers and industrial companies across Europe and North America.
Approximately 30 different systems are being tested at the company’s facilities, he says, including at a major automotive manufacturer and a global food company. “The feedback has been very good about the warning and the alarm,” he says, “and the accuracy of the data we are collecting, as well as the ease of use.”
The company now plans to implement the solution with customers in North America and Europe. This includes a logistics company, an auto parts supplier, a food and beverage company and a European football team. “The ultimate goal is to ensure that there is no risk of spread,” says Bentanfous, adding that companies are interested in both the basic version of the SafeZone solution and the tracking functionality. “The idea is that once you have the system, you can extend it by adding anchors” to capture data related to contact tracking, as well as overall efficiency.
The RIoT software platform includes several applications, such as those for creating heat maps, geolocation, alerts and process analysis. “We are seeing the interest of companies that have already reopened,” says Bentanfous, “as well as of some companies that are trying to open with a Covid plan.” The tags are sold at a price that varies according to the volume. For the extended plan, companies can purchase tags and pay a software-as-a-service fee per tag for exposure management functionality. For Kinexon, says Bentanfous, the solution is not an entirely new product, which is why it was launched relatively quickly. “We think UWB is exactly the right technology,” he says.