UWB-based Wearable Enforces Covid-19 Social Distancing

Article By : Nitin Dahad

imec and Ghent University spin-off Lopos uses UWB technology to develop social distancing wearable...

When it became apparent a few months ago that social distancing was going to be the key strategy in combating the spread of Covid-19, I wondered why we couldn’t use ultra-wideband (UWB) technology. After all, we’d written a lot last year about its ability for precise location, and this was surely a good way of warning people when they were too close.

Well, it seems I wasn’t the only one thinking this. Lopos, a spin-off of imec and the Ghent University has launched a wearable device called SafeDistance, based on UWB technology, a technology chosen over Bluetooth because of its accuracy. After successful pilots at medium and large companies in the chemical, metal and construction industry, Lopos said it is now scaling up to mass production, with devices available from the end of this month.

The wearable, which weighs 75g and has a battery life of 2-5 days, warns employees through an audible or haptic alarm, when they are violating social distancing guidelines while approaching each other. It operates as a standalone solution which means no personal data is logged and there is no gateway, server or other infrastructure required. The UWB-technology based device enables safe, highly accurate (< 15cm error margin) distance measurement. When two wearables approach each other, the exact distance between the devices (which is adjustable) is measured and an alarm is activated when a minimum safety distance is not respected.

After multiple successful pilots, Lopos has now ramped up production to meet market demand, with multiple large-scale orders received over the last few weeks from companies active in a wide range of different sectors. The SafeDistance wearable will be available from €99 per device without recurring costs.

The Lopos SafeDistance wearable uses UWB technology rather than Bluetooth because of its 15cm precision (Image: Lopos)

The CEO of Lopos, Jen Rossey, said, “In order to limit the spread of Covid-19 as much as possible, it is crucial that we adhere to the social distancing guidelines set by international health experts and governments. The SafeDistance wearable is an intuitive solution that endorses social distancing guidelines in a professional environment. Employees can easily carry the wearable via a clip on the hip or a lanyard and rest assured that they are working within a safe distance.” He added, “We did not choose Bluetooth where the current distance determination typically works via signal strength and the error is 2 to 5 meters. Unlike the Lopos UWB technology, Bluetooth is not sufficiently accurate for this application.”

One of the companies that piloted the wearable device is AkzoNobel, a Dutch multinational that makes paints and coatings. Its CEO Stefaan De Block said, “Our employees responded very positively to the effect of the Lopos SafeDistance wearable. It reminds them to respect the safe distance of 1.5 meter. We have seen an immediate impact of our employees’ interaction with each other and over 90 percent of them are willing to continue to use the Lopos wearable.”

Imec highlighted the fact that Lopos is building on imec’s software expertise for ultra-wideband and sub-GHz, positioning technology and advanced hardware design, developed within its R&D program for next generation UWB technology solutions. The development of the product also involved IDLab, a research group affiliated with the Ghent University and imec. The group’s testbed infrastructure is used to evaluate performance in realistic conditions – it provided large scale mock-up environments of offices, industrial areas and residential houses.

Leave a comment