Zebra adds social distancing warnings to work devices

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Zebra Technologies introduces an alert function in warehouses and factories if employees get too close to each other. Warehouses and factories struggle to maintain the distance needed to counteract the coronavirus.

Workers have to carry a device with them, usually on their belts. If two devices come within 1.8 to 3 metres of each other, the device sounds an alert. The employees then immediately should keep a distance from each other. If they ignore this warning, the tone repeats itself until there is enough distance between the two devices. Some of the devices also vibrate as part of the alert.

It has been attempted before to add similar functionalities to smartwatches and other gadgets. The big difference this time is that Zebra Technologies uses already existing devices that employees would typically also need to do their job. These devices emit a Bluetooth signal to measure the distance between them. Zebra’s technology works on several models that are already in use by their retail, transportation and manufacturing customers.

Contact tracing

Another possibility is that customers can choose to follow interactions between multiple employees of five minutes or more. If one of the employees tests positive for the coronavirus, the company can trace back to find out who that employee has been in contact with.

The American company started testing the new technology in its Dutch distribution center last month. Of the 200 employees, 100 were carrying the device. Supervisors reminded employees of the distance but did not punish them in the case of an alert. In the early stages, the system issued about 80 warnings a day, but eventually, this number dropped to just 10 alerts a day. By now, employees had adapted, and the software had also been fine-tuned.