IoT Offers Flexible Solutions for Post-Quarantine Worksites

By Claire Swedberg

GuardHat offers a mix-and-match solution for companies seeking social-distance-based proximity alerting, contact tracing and collision prevention, with mustering and access control among its Internet of Things features.

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As hundreds of technology companies and app developers are releasing social-distancing apps, Internet of Things (IoT) safety detection technology company GuardHat is offering what it describes as an alternative more flexible than other options. The company’s social-distancing and contract-tracing system can provide everything from a simple alerting app via Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) if two mobile phones come within a few feet of each other, to a facility-wide real-time locating system (RTLS) designed to understand individuals’ positions and provide contact tracing if a worker tests positive for COVID-19.

Beyond that, the system can provide features such as emergency alerting, evacuation mustering and access control. RTLS solutions could leverage ultra-wideband (UWB), BLE or a combinations of technologies. For the past month, companies have been piloting the solution for social-distancing or contact-tracing purposes, as well as for overall safety and productivity, according to Saikat Dey, GuardHat’s CEO. Those who want a wearable tracker are employing GuardHat’s Atlas Tag, a small electronic device that can be clipped onto a belt or carried in a pocket. For social distancing, the tags communicate with each other to detect proximity using Bluetooth. The proximity alert data can then be forwarded to a cloud-based server using an LTE cellular or Wi-Fi connection.

GuardHat’s Saikat Dey

At the center of the solution is GuardHat’s Kyra IoT platform, in which data cap be captured, such as the number of proximity alerts, as well as where and for how long they occurred, along with a variety of other data points if a company requires them. These include contact tracing, geofencing and mustering in the event of an evacuation.

GuardHat launched its IoT technology company in 2014 to help manage the locations of workers in dangerous conditions via sensors on their hardhats. The system traditionally used GuardHat’s wireless sensor-based technology built into a hardhat, in addition to devices deployed around a facility which, could include UWB gateways, BLE beacons or other wireless technologies. Early adopters of the solution included oil and gas companies and mining operations (see Iot Brings Intelligence to Hard Hats and Petrochemical Company Launches Refinery of the Future With IoT).

Since its inception, the GuardHat solution was designed to be workspace-agnostic. It can operate with a variety of technologies and does not require Wi-Fi to operate since it also communicates via a cellular connection. In addition, it can be used with an Android-based app if companies wish to use their own phones as tags.

For proximity detection with the wearable tracker, a company would provide each employee with an Atlas Tag. The tag has a unique ID number that can be linked to a specific user—or not, depending on that company’s requirements. By transmitting and receiving BLE signals, it continuously detects proximity to other tags and notifies workers if they come within 6 feet of one another person, via visual and audible alerts.

The alerts cease once a safe distance is reestablished. This alert data is also sent wirelessly to the back-end Kyra IoT platform and GuradHat’s Safety Control Center dashboard in real time. The Atlas Tag also provides additional safety features, like SOS and emergency evacuation alerts that address other key safety hazards. For social distancing and contact tracing, Dey says, the system is designed to be low-cost and easy to deploy. “There are no gateways,” he states. “We just ship our devices, [then] customers turn them on and they are ready to go.”

Companies seeking a faster deployment can employ GuardHat’s newly released RHEA mobile app for Android phones. The app relies on the beacon-based transmission data from the phone’s built-in BLE radio. Each worker would carry an Android-based phone or other device and download the RHEA app. As he or she moves around a workspace, the phone’s beacons would transmit and receive data, thereby enabling the app to detect if two phones were within 6 feet of each other. The app could then provide the same real-time proximity alerts without the need for a wearable device. The app could leverage sensors in the phone to detect falls or other incidents, as well as environmental conditions.

To date, Dey reports, those piloting or deploying the solution are mostly opting to leverage the technology’s contact-tracing feature, rather than simple proximity alerts. That’s because contact tracing is being recommended at workplaces by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

According to Dey, there are four levels of solutions that most companies select. In one case, he says, “People want to know, in near-real time, where an exposure occurred and how an exposure happened.” A second group does not want that level of data, but merely to provide alerts in real time. Companies also can opt for a variety of features already available in GuardHat’s safety solution, including SOS distress alerts via the tag, software detection related to geofence violations and access-control badges.

Those deploying the system for social distancing are typically in the food, construction, healthcare, nuclear power and mining sectors, Dey says, as well as at office worksites. There are blends of technologies built into some of these deployments, as several companies are using phone-based tracking for some departments and the wearable device for others. A solution without contact tracing and a database would not solve the problems most companies face, he notes, since it would simply ring alarms without collecting or storing data. “It’s like offering a buffet and all you eat is the fried rice,” he states.

Another option is UWB or active RFID, which can identify a tracker’s location even if it is not within range of another unit. BLE beacons are also being used to track when individuals enter specific areas or rooms, for instance. Traditionally, GuardHat’s solutions have been used in workplaces to prevent safety hazards between individuals and machinery such as forklifts. Some companies already using the GuardHat technology are simply adding the proximity or contact-tracing features as they return to normal business operations in the wake of the coronavirus quarantine.

GuardHat is preparing to release another product this summer that will provide real-time data regarding the location of people or machinery in outdoor locations. The solution will employ a single gateway with a built-in 4G cellular radio, Wi-Fi connectivity, and audiovisual, controller and hotspot functionalities. In that way, the system can identify the specific locations of trackers in storage yards and other places.

The tracker tag comes with a button for use if an individual requires assistance, and it can also receive evacuation alerts and other transmissions. The firm predicts some companies could employ the solution for social distancing and contact tracing in the short term, as well as security and evacuation for its employees in the future.

GuardHat’s existing customers typically sign contracts for three- or five-year terms. “Even after the pandemic passes,” Dey states, “the work environment has changed.” With less travel, for instance, data can be collected for those who want to know what is happening at another site that they previously would have physically visited—for example, at a plant in another state or country.

“I think if we had been hit with COVID-19 in 2003, we wouldn’t have been able to consider the kind of productivity we have been able to achieve digitally,” Dey says. “People are realizing connecting things and connecting people is important. That’s the only good I see coming from this [pandemic]. It’s the realization that the connectivity is critical.”