July 08, 2020 | Enzo Signore
We’re all coping with an unprecedented situation during the COVID-19 pandemic, as millions of businesses have been closed or are only offering very limited service, employees have been sent home to work, and stay-at-home orders have been instituted in most countries. Events and activities that would result in anything but the smallest of gatherings or put people within close proximity of one another have been banned, and those facilities that have remained open have implemented strict physical distancing guidelines.
As businesses and consumers alike anxiously wait for government restrictions to be loosened, so they may start returning to more normal operations, many questions about the novel coronavirus remain unanswered. A proven vaccine does not appear imminent, which means many of the current health and safety protocols will likely remain in place to some extent, even as some restrictions on business are lifted. That means people in retail stores, restaurants, airports, train stations, theaters, and other establishments will be asked to maintain safe distances between one another, and management will be required to adhere to strict headcount standards to minimize risk.
You’ve probably seen staff or even police officers at entrances to grocery stores or other businesses monitoring in- and outgoing traffic to ensure safe flow of traffic within their facilities. It’s something that has to be done; the problem is that it’s prone to error, is an inefficient use of resources, and its ability to effectively enforce distancing standards within facilities is limited.
Most experts agree some level of distancing is likely to be with us for the foreseeable future – even permanently – to reduce the risk of future pandemic outbreaks and to simply ensure the health and wellness of workers and customers on a day-to-day basis. The good news is, technology is available to support businesses in these efforts.
LiDAR (Light Detecting and Ranging) technology is probably best known for its use in autonomous vehicles. It works by emitting light pulses, which bounce off physical objects, and measuring the time for the pulses to reflect back. By sending the pulses at an extremely high rate, LiDAR is able to create highly accurate three-dimensional images of objects in any space, including location, directionality, and movement of people. Because it produces a continuous flow of data, LiDAR-based solutions can provide the real-time tracking and monitoring needed to manage traffic flows.
LiDAR is already being used in similar implementations in airports to manage security checkpoints by tracking the number of people in line and how quickly they move through those checkpoints. If you’ve ever checked the wait times at Miami International Airport, for instance, that information is based on LiDAR data. In addition to keeping travelers informed, the system helps MIA effectively drive traffic flows to its various checkpoints, understand traffic daily and weekly traffic patterns, and manage staffing.
When 360-degree and directional LiDAR sensors are combined with AI-driven software, businesses can anonymously count and track customers and employees within their facilities. Regardless of the venue, tracking movement and distancing is going to be a necessity as the world emerges from this pandemic. It will be needed to ensure public safety, but it will play an equally important role in reassuring people they can safely resume their normal activities.
LiDAR offers several benefits over camera-based solutions that some businesses are considering. First and foremost, there are no privacy concerns with LiDAR. Because it generates 3D renderings based on its light pulses rather than storing images – which are considered a form of PII (Personally Identifiable Information) – LiDAR solutions aren’t subject to the same privacy regulations, like GDPR. It also isn’t susceptible to varying lighting conditions, including darkness.
With 98% detection accuracy and up to 70-meter range, fewer LiDAR sensors are needed to full coverage and tracking capability, which means faster deployment and lower cost. The addition of artificial intelligence software and edge processing enable real-time tracking throughout venues, including across multiple sensors for larger installations.
In addition to people counting for simply monitoring the number of people within a space at one time, advanced software solutions can use LiDAR data to identify directional movement and spacing between people, a critical element to ensuring proper distancing protocols are followed. When headcount or distancing thresholds are breached, alerts can be triggered so management and staff can appropriately address the situation.
While we’re all anxious for things to return to normal, the reality is that there will be a new normal for an extended time, which will require careful monitoring within the confines of any facility. Time and time again, as establishments are opened up for activity, we’ve seen people immediately fall back into their pre-coronavirus patterns, casting aside warnings from government leaders and health officials. The only way to safely bring business, entertainment, sports, travel, and other activities back is to use technology to guide us.
LiDAR offers a cost-effective, non-intrusive mechanism for doing that.
For more information on how Quanergy’s LiDAR solutions, including our Flow Management Platform can be applied in a wide range of applications, including supporting safe distancing measures in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, connect with us here.