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6 minutes read

IoT for Social Distancing Apps

By Jose Gomez
By Jose Gomez
6 minutes read

Social distancing measures are not going to disappear any time soon. Even after a vaccine is developed, it will take some time for everyone to have it. Additionally, a vaccine does not guarantee that everyone will develop the necessary antibodies to be protected indefinitely against COVID-19. Lastly, according to a new study, there is uncertainty regarding those who have already been infected and whether they develop immunity. 

As discouraging as this sounds, the world still needs to find a way to cope with the pandemic while keeping the economy and our lives afloat. After all, we are all social beings, and staying inside indefinitely is not a realistic solution. The good thing is technology can help. 

Thanks to technological solutions like the Internet of Things (IoT), the world can design mechanisms that can help us cope better with the pandemic. Although this is not a direct solution to the problem, it can help mitigate the risks while we find a way out. This is particularly helpful for businesses and other locations that require physical presence.

In this post we discuss some ideas on how IoT social distancing apps can help reactivate the economy while reducing the risk of contagion. 

How IoT Can Help Implement Social Distancing

IoT allows us to connect multiple devices on a network. This means that a lot of tasks can be done at a distance, but it doesn’t stop there. Our mobile phones can be used to detect whether we are too close to someone else, sending us a notification or keeping track of who we come in contact with. A set of features can be developed from these capabilities, some more complex than others. Let’s consider some of them. 

Contact Tracing Apps

This alternative has proven to be controversial, due to privacy issues, and its effectiveness has been questioned. Realistically speaking, this IoT strategy does not seem feasible, especially as concerns about user data and potential IoT network security breaches are making the headlines.

Although security can be improved, people’s trust in contact tracing apps has already been tarnished. This might result in low engagement rates even if problems are fixed. Also, there is always the chance that contact tracing apps are used in a malicious way. For this and other reasons, this does not seem like the best alternative. 

Social Distancing as a User Experience

Besides contact tracing apps there are other ways in which IoT can help. A realistic alternative, rather than tracing contacts, is to use our phones as proximity sensors through social distancing apps. For this to work properly, it is convenient to frame social distancing in terms of user experience (UX) and customer journey. By doing so, we can focus on how to make it easy for users to reduce exposure and minimize the risk of contagion due to proximity. Ultimately, IoT could help mobile users guarantee a safe and socially distanced experience. It is best to picture it with the following example.

Imagine you go into the supermarket with your phone in social distance mode with the help of an app. Only a number of people would be allowed at once inside the supermarket, but those who are inside would know if someone is nearby thanks to the IoT network. Users may receive a notification in case they are too close to each other or in case they are heading towards someone else. 

IoT can also make the customer experience better by helping them find what they need. This way, they don’t have to wander about uselessly while being exposed. Customers could register their shopping list on an app before going into the store, and the app could then calculate the best route to the items on the list while avoiding contact with other users. This is not a risk-free solution, and people would need to get used to it, but it can work out. 

Who Would Benefit

This proposed strategy has the potential to be implemented in environments beyond stores. As long as there is a network of interconnected devices, almost any setting is suitable. IoT social distancing apps can easily be adapted for other closed settings. 

Offices and other working sites are potentially good for this. Because not every business can afford to work remotely, many will need to help their employees stay safe. Companies will need to adapt, and a shift in employer and employee mentality needs to occur, but the benefits look promising. 

Open spaces can also benefit from this proposed strategy. Remember that people need to enjoy nature and go out for a walk. By using an IoT solution, it is potentially possible to reopen public spaces where the risk of contagion is relatively low and people are afraid to go out. This ultimately depends on each specific case. IoT could help governments that want to ease lockdown measures but feel scared to do so because of a potential surge in cases

In general, it is possible to think of a massive IoT distancing system. In other words, this would be a smart socially distanced city. Densely populated cities could use IoT social distancing apps to help people move within their neighborhoods based on localized needs. Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms are the perfect complement. They can help determine important metrics to optimize mobility and reduce exposure. Having relevant and accurate data becomes very important for this.

Other Considerations

IoT social distancing apps can be complemented with other ways of mitigating the risk of contagion. Gamification elements could be added to the user experience so that everyone engages better with the situation. Even an augmented reality solution could be useful. The key aspect to keep in mind is to make any solution very engaging, and the only way to do so is through remarkable design that delivers great UX. 

One last aspect deserves special attention. No matter the solution or the features implemented, privacy should always be a priority. I’ve already mentioned that one of the aspects that prevented users from using contact tracing apps was the lack of clarity on what information was being collected and with what purposes. Being transparent and respecting privacy is a must. 

Final Thoughts

These are all ideas on how an IoT social distancing app could work. There are many possibilities as to what can be done thanks to the versatility of IoT technologies and apps. 

At Koombea we’ve built hundreds of and we are IoT savvy. Whether you are a retail store or an office, we firmly believe that IoT technologies could help you reduce the risks of your customers and employees. 
If you want to know more about how to implement IoT to keep your stakeholders safe, contact us for a free consultation.

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