Innovation in The Time of COVID: Smart Wireless Sensor Networks for Smarter Social Distancing


As we witness a third surge of growth in the novel coronavirus pandemic, with some countries reaching the same or higher levels of cases as we enter the colder months, the need to comply with regulations that reduce the spread through social distancing and other practices is more relevant than ever.

While scientific companies race to develop a vaccine and therapeutics, hospitals are gearing up for this new wave, and while first responders, healthcare workers and others have learned how to combat the virus in new ways – an ounce of prevention is still worth a pound of cure.

Managers responsible for running the facilities that are reopening are now responsible for the safety of the customers who visit those facilities, or the workers who are coming back as the economy begins its own recovery and innovation in the world of sensors is paying a pivotal role.

Ray Almgren, CEO at Swift Sensors, an Austin, Texas-based company that combines cloud and wireless technology to deliver affordable sensor systems for a wide range of industrial and commercial applications, said “It’s one thing to ask businesses to create physical distance between workers and redesign production processes, but it can be very difficult to implement in crowded spaces that cannot be reasonably reconfigured. Managers still have to meet regulatory standards for safety and customer expectations for quality, while also meeting business goals including generating enough revenue to contribute to a healthy, profitable recovery.”

Meeting demands to run a safe and efficient workplace is possible with technology innovations inspired by the unprecedented challenges the entire world is facing in 2020.

“In your facility, you can manage the balancing act and set the stage for efficiency and productivity gains, cost savings and growth,” Almgren said, “and a wireless sensor system that continuously and securely feeds data to the cloud can support social distancing and facility safety goals. From your secure dashboard, you can monitor equipment, plant, and personnel conditions from anywhere, on-site or off.”

Almgren says that while a solution that instruments a retail store, a restaurant, a factory, a public transportation hub and any physical space has an immediate set of benefits associated with COVID-19 remediation, the longer-term value has also been apparent to their clients.

“We’ve seen a dramatic acceleration in the digital transformation of so many businesses, given that with observational, sensor-based solutions, companies can reduce the number of people required on-site, ensure that on-site employees are following social distancing and facility zoning protocols, document health and safety compliance data, like foodservice cold-storage temperatures, and avoid crucial equipment failures that can cause shutdowns, recalls and other costly problems.”

Almgren said one of the most popular applications Swift Sensors is seeing is in the predictive maintenance realm and connected field service.

“By reducing downtime and maximizing the life of their equipment, businesses who invest in smart technologies will be even more prepared in 2021 and beyond to thrive” Almgren said. “We’re seeing this approach working across industries, including food chain and cold chain transportation, industrial manufacturing, restaurants and foodservice, data centers, research and development facilities, power plants and agricultural operations.”

Almgren said, like many other IoT companies and service providers, Swift Sensors is continually investing in ensuring systems are secure, especially given threats that have surfaced by bad actors looking for any weak links during the crisis to attack and steal data or interrupt services.

“Unlike legacy monitoring systems, which store data on-site and have to be retrofitted to connect to the internet, our wireless sensor systems are designed for secure connectivity, with cybersecurity features built-in,” Almgren said. “Cybersecurity should be a forethought, not an afterthought, and bundled into every quality solution.”

Data-protection elements include secure signals – encrypted Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) – to transmit sensor data to a gateway, SSL and AES 256-bit encryption of sensor data by the gateway before it’s sent to a secure, managed cloud server, ISO 27001 secure data storage in the cloud, and password-protected, role-based access to real-time data and analytics through the network dashboard with Privileged Access Management software baked in.

“One of the most valuable applications during the pandemic has been the enhanced ability to evaluate and improve shift performance,” Almgren said. “The more consistent and comprehensive, the better. Now that many facilities are changing from two or three large shifts to more, smaller shifts for social distancing, the need for clear and complete performance data is greater than ever.”

Almgren also said that it is a combination of sensor types that can be orchestrated to support shift management by counting people and merging information about equipment yield and upkeep. “Individually, the sensors on a network give managers powerful real-time, historical and predictive data, but when you combine data from different types of sensors in one area, they generate a more complete and more useful dataset than single sensors alone,” Almgren said.

This merging of data from different sensors is called sensor fusion. At its most complex and refined, sensor fusion is the technology that makes self- driving vehicles possible. Even at its simplest, sensor fusion can make facility management easier and more efficient.

Sensor fusion can help you keep employees safer, too. Wireless door sensors plus remote video monitoring can alert a business if plant workers stray outside of the zones set up for social distancing. These tools also make it easier to monitor facility entrances and restricted areas for unauthorized access.

“Sensor fusion can save you time and money, protect your employees more fully, and help you learn more, faster about your operations and how you can improve them,” Almgren summarized. “We’re excited to be helping businesses during this very challenging time, while also helping them experience the potential of longer-term recovery and growth with more tools than they’ve had before to run efficiently, safely and securely in the years to come. Necessity truly is the mother of invention, and the innovations we’ve seen have come from true collaboration with our clients and the overall tech industry. It’s inspiring to see how so many are rising to these new challenges with so much resiliency and determination.”

Edited by Maurice Nagle
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Analyst & Consultant

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