Using IoT for COVID-19 safety is a priority for many industrial firms
Safety has been a long-standing priority for industrial companies. With COVID-19, though, protecting workers has taken on new dimensions. In recent months, industrial organizations have enacted measures to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. In addition to requiring workers to wear masks and maintain at least six feet of distance when possible, they have ramped up automation and adjusted shifts.
The top goal for manufacturers is “to have employees who feel safe,” said Ben White, vice president, corporate development at Taco Comfort Solutions, a heating and cooling equipment manufacturer in a webinar from the Brooking Institution.
A growing number of industrial organizations have invested in Internet of Things (IoT) and other technologies such as augmented and virtual reality to protect workers as momentum in the sector builds. While the central focus of industrial IoT technology has been operational efficiency, an emerging focus is using IoT for safety.
Sensors for Social Distancing and More
One strategy to ensure workers comply with social-distancing protocols is to use sensors that signal an alarm when workers step too close to one another. Such sensors can also help industrial organizations perform contact tracing.
Manufacturers have deployed several sensor types for this purpose, ranging from various wearable sensors to camera-based equipped with computer vision capabilities. Ford, for instance, has tested RFID wristbands that vibrate when another worker approaches. The system sends alerts to supervisors to monitor worker compliance with social distancing protocols.
Sensor-based technologies to monitor social distancing tend to differ from those used for asset tracking. For one thing, monitoring employees requires greater precision than, say, tracking the assembly of a car moving throughout a manufacturing site, said David A. Horsley, a professor at the University of California, Davis. “For this social distancing application, you want to know where people are, and their separation to, let’s say, a few centimeters,” said Horsley, who is also the chief technology officer at Chirp Microsystems.
Other industries are adopting similar technology to enforce social distancing. The Göbecke Bakery in Leipzig in Germany, for instance, requires workers to wear Bluetooth tags that communicate with beacons in the bakery. The system sounds an alarm when an employee is closer than 1.5 meters (about 5 feet) from a colleague for more than 15 seconds. Social distancing in the small bakery can be challenging, given the roughly 20 employees — among them, bakers, pastry chefs and cashiers — who navigate the space at any given time.
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