IoT solutions are enabling physical distancing


Image Credits: Hugh R. Hastings (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Tyler Cracraft


Tyler Cracraft is an electronic engineer turned solution architect at Advantech who has more than a decade of experience working in the electronics technology industry.

If you’re a business owner or investor and are wondering about the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the business world, you’re not alone.

Today’s business leaders have been plunged into the deep end of telecommuting with little notice, and the way we do business has been impacted at almost every level. Travel is restricted, meetings are virtual and delivery of goods and even raw materials is being delayed. While some industries that depend on large gatherings are seeing extremely difficult challenges due to the pandemic, others such as the tech industry, see the opportunity and responsibility for innovation and growth.

As many states begin phased reopening, companies are trying to determine what the workplace and business environment will look like in a post-quarantine world. The first obvious step is the integration of personal protective equipment (PPE). Sanitization and face masks will become required and nonessential face-to-face meetings will be a thing of the past, along with shaking hands.

Additionally, relationship-driven careers such as sales and recruiting will have to find new ways to connect to be successful. Physical distancing rules will have to be established, which may include employees coming in alternate days while telecommuting the other days of the week to keep offices at reduced capacity. Large offices of 10 or more may implement thermographic camera technology for fever screening or other real-time technology-based health screenings.

One thing is for sure: IoT devices that enable physical distancing will become an integral part of reopening businesses, facilitating sales connections and embracing a different way of living.

Solutions for physical distancing

There are a variety of IoT devices available that can help business leaders successfully implement physical distancing in their offices. Thermographic camera technology coupled with facial recognition can create a baseline for each employee and then assist in determining if an employee has a temperature outside of their norm. Other remote health monitoring may also take place with healthcare providers, helping employees determine on a daily basis if they are well enough to go into work.

While employees may have good intentions, remembering to physical distance and maintain six feet of distance between themselves and their coworkers can be challenging. 3D counting cameras combined with capacity status display and alarms can help enforce physical distancing and occupancy rules in common areas such as conference and break rooms. With telecommuting being the current norm and possibly extended into post-quarantine practices, secure remote asset access, helpful peripherals and connectivity devices will be imperative to resuming normal operations. Some companies may even find drones useful for surveillance and monitoring of outside areas. Finally, IoT devices may be integrated to retrofit legacy products to add remote communication features.

Preventing another wave

The whole purpose of the quarantine and physical distancing was to flatten the curve, and now many states have moved on to minimizing further exposure that may cause what healthcare professionals are referring to as a “second wave.” IoT devices and technology will be vital tools in preventing a large second wave of infections. IoT solutions such as thermographic cameras and facial recognition will help with earlier detection of people who have fevers or are showing COVID-19 symptoms. These everyday health screenings can have a big impact on the overall wellness of your workforce. By using IoT solutions to monitor capacity and enforce physical distancing, we can exponentially reduce the number of people coming in contact with one another, therefore minimizing the spread if the virus does have a resurgence. Additionally, IoT solutions have been key in enabling work-from-home capabilities, removing those employees from the risk of contact in the office.

IoT technology trends

Looking ahead to the future, technology will take the lead in the development of solutions to not only combat this pandemic but prepare us to manage future outbreaks. Here are the IoT trends that will enable physical distancing and a safe return to normal:

Touchless technology: No more pressing buttons or touching consoles that countless others have touched! IoT solutions will make our regular experiences touchless. This should include increased Near Field Communication (NFC) IoT solutions for payment and data transfer.

Artificial Intelligence (AI): Get ready for AI to make a huge leap into public health. We’ll see AI implemented in not only measuring temperatures of people in crowds, but also monitoring the density of people in areas such as mass transit, theaters, restaurants and at entertainment or sporting events.

UV disinfection: This technology already exists and will be thrust into the mainstream experience. Along with mandatory hand washing before dining, restaurants or other services may start offering complimentary phone disinfecting as well. We’ll see a surge in these items for private use as households will want to sanitize commonly touched items such as phones, tablets and remotes.

Drones: Drones will be utilized not only for product delivery, but also to seek out and track health hazard violators. Drones may also be used as part of contact tracing efforts.

Robot-assisted solutions: Post-quarantine IoT solutions will focus on helping maintain physical distancing and making robot assistance more robust is a smart way to keep essential workers safe and removed from crowded locations. Robots can be operated by humans but provide an opportunity for those human operators to be removed from the area.

Distance learning: For all grade levels, distance learning became an overnight reality. While thrown together out of necessity at the beginning of the pandemic, educators from kindergarten to doctoral programs are now looking at more permanent IoT solutions to enhance the distance learning experience.

Esports emergence: Team sports are a bit of a logistical conundrum right now, and it will still be quite some time before a regular sports experience is back up and running. However, esports such as online video games, basketball, football, soccer and baseball can offer sports content from the safety of a fan’s own home.

Increased interest in technology-based environmental efforts: It was amazing to see how the environment responded to reduced human activity. Technology lovers with a passion for conservation will certainly be exploring how IoT solutions can help preserve the environment as the world’s population resumes daily activities.

Telehealth: There is enormous potential for telehealth advancement. AR and VR technology will be tapped to not only facilitate better patient outcomes, but also to keep healthcare professionals safe and reduce their exposure to viruses.

Online entertainment: Being trapped in the house has made for some interesting entertainment discoveries. Even major movie studios are releasing films online instead of in the theater. Now that there has been an increase in demand, it’s safe to assume that there will be some new and improved technological advancements in online entertainment.

Expanded COVID-19 testing: A big part of controlling the spread of the virus and enabling physical distancing when necessary is ramping up testing capabilities. Keep your eyes open for IoT solutions to make testing more widely accessible with quicker result times.

As the world starts to slowly dip its toe into the new normal, IoT solutions will be an integral part of enabling physical distancing while getting back to business. Technology companies are developing solutions to strengthen those efforts. Business leaders and investors should look ahead to upcoming trends to help guide their strategies moving forward. Between a variety of healthcare and health monitoring systems, technology that promotes physical distancing in the workplace, assists in telecommuting to reduce in-office traffic or tracks crowds and the spread of the virus, IoT solutions will be at the forefront of enabling physical distancing while facilitating the reopening of businesses and the economy.

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