Tablet And Phone Cameras Monitor Mask-Wearing And Distancing In Cafes And Lobbies

Screen grab from a Nomad Go demo video showing a kiosk that monitors mask compliance at a building entry. CREDIT: Nomad Go
Screen grab from a Nomad Go demo video showing a kiosk that monitors mask compliance at a building entry. CREDIT: Nomad Go

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A tech startup in the Seattle area is offering new software that it says can help businesses track whether they are COVID-safe, including monitoring for whether employees and customers are wearing masks and social distancing.

The four-year-old startup Nomad Go in Kirkland, Washington, sells software for building management — to monitor lines and speed of service, for example. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, co-founder and CEO David Greschler realized his company’s image analysis tools could be enhanced to show not only percent occupancy, but also mask compliance and if people are properly distancing.

“That data can be used by a manager or someone at the company headquarters to understand, ‘How are our spaces being used?'” Greschler explained. “Are people being compliant in terms of wearing masks, in terms of social distancing, and just in general, how many people are coming in and out of our store.”

In Greschler’s home state and others, some business sectors must stay under certain occupancy thresholds to be able to legally operate during the ongoing pandemic. Restaurants in Seattle and Spokane are limited in the current phase of reopening to no more than 50% of capacity, for instance. Museums and large gyms are capped at 25% of their maximum occupancy.

Stationing an employee at the door to control access and enforce mask wearing has led to unpleasantries if not open conflict, in some cases. Greschler suggested replacing the human gatekeepers with automated kiosks topped with camera-equipped smart tablets.

“One of the key benefits is that the employees don’t have to be the mask police,” Greschler said in an interview. “I think that people just see that this is the policy. It’s being expressed through this kiosk and I’m going to abide by that.”

Greschler says his company has received orders from the food service industry, retail stores and apartment managers who have common spaces to monitor such as their building’s gym or lobby.

In the Pacific Northwest, Greschler said a Taco Bell franchise and the restaurant chain Evergreens are among those adopting the pandemic safety monitoring software. Evergreens operates health food cafes in the greater Seattle area and suburban Portland.

“We see Nomad Go as an important partner to help us operate more safely in today’s environment, improve our customer engagement and grow the business,” said Tom Small, Evergreens’ co-CEO, in a press release.

Nomad Go’s artificial intelligence software operates separately from a building’s security cameras. It’s downloaded as an app onto a tablet computer or smartphone that the business then mounts on a stand or on the wall. The users of the “HealthySpaces” package pay a monthly software subscription to Nomad Go.

Greschler said the monitoring system was designed to protect customer privacy by processing all imagery anonymously.

“There is no personally identifiable information,” Greschler said. “No pictures are saved.”

Venture capital-backed Nomad Go has several competitors in this field of proximity sensing including Zebra Technologies and Voxel51. Illinois-based Zebra’s solution includes contact tracing features.

Independently this spring, Amazon said in a company blog post that it assigned some of its programmers to figure out how the cameras inside its warehouses could be used to monitor social distancing among workers.

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