Museums Will Open With UWB-Based Social-Distancing Tool

By Claire Swedberg

Magazzino Italian Art is launching a solution from Advanced Industrial Marketing to detect unsafe proximities and alert visitors so they can be comfortable in remaining a safe distance from others.

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The Magazzino Italian Art museum will reopen with social distancing managed by an ultra-wideband (UWB) solution provided by Advanced Industrial Marketing (AIM), which can detect when individuals come with unsafe proximity to each other. The system is designed to help protect visitors from COVID-19 transmission. The museum is following guidelines from New York State and the CDC as it reopens, according to Vittorio Calabrese, Magazzino’s director. “At Magazzino Italian Art, our top priority is the health and safety of our team and visitors,” he states. “We have been preparing our staff and space to make sure we are ready to welcome future audiences into the museum building safely, whenever it is next possible to open our doors.”

To accomplish this goal, the museum plans to use AIM’s EGOPro solution. The facility will provide RFID tags to all visitors, as well as implement a mandatory online reservation system. In addition, the museum is installing sanitation stations, a contactless ticket exchange and mask availability, and it will regularly clean the space during hours of operation. Shuttle buses and coat-check services are being suspended. “Our mission is educational, and we feel that visitors’ experience of the works on view and the grounds would be impeded if we did not consider their safety first,” Calabrese says. “Our museum is free to the public, and access to these services will be offered completely free of charge to patrons.”

According to Calabrese, the museum began searching for a system that would allow it to guarantee social distancing to patrons “as soon as it was clear that this practice was going to be necessary for the safe reopening of our space.” He says management worked with colleagues at other museums throughout Italy regarding their reopening strategies. They learned that art institution Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, in Firenze, was opening with the AIM solution, and Magazzino opted to employ the same technology

Once the museum opens with the system in place, visitors will need to prearrange their visits to view the New York Italian art exhibits. As they check in at their reserved time, staff members will provide each patron with a tag individually wrapped in sanitary packaging attached to a single-use, individual lanyard that holds the reusable UWB tag. The museum’s visitor services team will use the AIM software dashboard to calibrate the tags so that groups who have made a reservation together can visit the galleries simultaneously without triggering each other’s alarm.

Once visitors receive their lanyard with a built-in UWB transmitter, they can then move around the facility to view the artwork. The tag transmits a signal at preset intervals. Each time a tag detects the transmission of another tag (which happens if two tags come within 6 feet [1.8 meters] of each other), both tags identify that event and can vibrate and flash a warning for the users. The individuals would then simply step away from each other, and the lanyard would return to a dormant mode. In that way, visitors can be assured that they do not violate social-distancing requirements.

Once the visitors leave, the lanyard can be discarded or taken home, while the UWB tag is turned in to be sanitized and installed in a new lanyard, which is then wrapped in sanitized packaging. “We’ve also equipped our full staff with tags,” Calabrese says, “so they can comfortably move through the galleries without having to constantly monitor their own distance from others.”

This EGOpro solution, using EGOpro active tags, is designed to only respond to a transmission if it is within 6 feet, explains Rob Hruskoci, AIM’s owner and CEO. The technology was developed for the industrial market, but the COVID-19 quarantine has opened up a different application and market that the company is now serving. The social-distancing system was launched in May.

Traditionally, those working in a factory or warehouse would wear an active, battery-powered RFID badge that transmits a unique ID number. Powered industry vehicle (PIV) collisions are among the top-10 reported incidents, according to OHSA, and are the leading causes of fatalities in some environments, Hruskoci says. As a PIV operator approaches a specific zone or comes within range of another operator, the system will identify that action and alert the individual, allowing him or her to take corrective action. This function can help to ensure worker safety and prevent collisions.

“That’s our core business and core technology,” Hruskoci says. “This interaction between tag and machine, or tag to tag, is nothing new to us.” The traditional industrial-based solution employs dual-frequency active RFID technology with fixed readers that send an activation transmission to the tag at 2.4 GHz, while the tag responds at 433 MHz. That tag transmission is then captured by other devices in the area to set off an alert.

The primary use of the product pre-COVID-19 was to alarm machine operators or other industrial site workers of a potentially dangerous situation. If the owner of a machine wants to take that data and learn more, it can use a Wi-Fi or cellular connection to capture that information. Chemical and rail companies are among those using the system’s proximity-detection functionality. The solution has been available in the United States since 2015, and through partner AME in Europe for two decades.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hruskoci says, “We made a quick decision to launch it as its own product, using ultra-wideband.” The company opted to deploy UWB, he says, because the location data is highly accurate, providing location down to centimeter accuracy. In fact, he adds, the company can offer accuracy of ±10 centimeters (±3.9 inches). “That ensures the distance between the wearables could be very specific,” to prevent badges from staying within 2 meters of each other. “We send a quick burst of energy and we can deliver reliable position measurements.”

The rechargeable tag is typically attached to a lanyard, but it could be adapted for a wristband or a belt clip. The system is set with a threshold measurement at any time longer than six seconds, so if individuals pass in a corridor, for instance, they will not receive an alert. If they violate social distancing for more than six seconds, however, their lanyard would vibrate as a warning.

The EGOPro solution is offered in two versions: Lite and Plus. The Lite model offers social-distancing detection only, with no tracking or tracing, while the Plus requires the installation of UWB readers to offer user positioning data, along with time and date stamps. In this scenario, the gateways receive data and forward it to a concentrator connected to a server. “That concentrator takes millions of data points [from the gateways] and then deciphers and delivers only pertinent data to the server,” Hruskoci says. Multiple gateways could be networked with a single concentrator.

EGOPro Light might include one gateway or none. There is memory on each tag, with a storage capacity of 3,400 interactions. That can be captured by a single gateway—for instance, one time a day during battery charging. AIM’s Europe-based partner company, AME, manufactures the tags, gateway and communicator, and AIM provides the software.

In the long term, Hruskoci says, the solution can be converted or expanded to include proximity detection for safety, such as to prevent collisions. In fact, he states, “The key to our offering is the ability to convert to proximity detection,” so that the social-distancing application could be the first phase in a safety solution. “We feel we’re experts in proximity detection. We want customers to know this is something we’re here to continue to do. We’ll help them repurpose for other safety purposes.” Trials and proofs-of-concept are currently under way with multiple companies and museums. Typically, the cost is approximately $200 per device.

When Magazzino Italian Art opens its doors this summer, Calabrese says, “We want this technology to make staff and our visitors feel safe, comfortable and assured that they can maintain a safe distance from other individuals in the museum building without having to make off-the cuff-estimates of their proximity to others.” He adds that privacy has been an important factor for the solution. “This system does not track anyone’s movement or have access to anyone’s personal data.”

The museum is still determining some of the benefits it could gain from the system once the gallery opens, Calabrese says. “We are looking forward to welcoming school groups back into the building,” he states, “and think this device would be especially useful for them. We have also been thinking about using these devices to protect artwork.”

In addition, AIM is releasing a solution known as LASE PeCo, using 3D camera data to count the number of people entering a specific area. That solution can employ a laser grid system in large open spaces. The benefit, Hruskoci says, would be in understanding the number of individuals within a given space, and thereby in limiting how many may enter before others leave.