The software company Vantiq is releasing an extensible platform designed to help organizations safely return to work after the coronavirus lockdown.
Private companies and governments around the globe are harnessing a vast spectrum of technologies to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. Software company Vantiq is one of the companies at the forefront of this effort, allowing organizations and agencies to leverage artificial intelligence, thermal imaging, facial recognition, and more. These components are used in tandem in a host of environments for everything from pinpointing elevated body temperatures to contact tracing. In March, we spoke with Vantiq CEO Marty Sprinzen about a series of real-time monitoring solutions the company had deployed in a wide array of environments ranging from sports venues to airports. Today, Vantiq announced its "Back to Work Accelerator" to empower organizations with these tools during the pandemic.
"Our strength is real-time space and time monitoring and we believe firmly that this is the hot spot, the sweet spot as businesses start up again. That's what they're going to need to do is make sure that spatially, things are maintained so the virus doesn't spread, that their offices are safe," said Sprinzen.
Transitioning back to the workplace
This system is designed to bring real-time monitoring to organizations now transitioning back to the in-house operations. One of the most critical components of bringing employees on-site amid an ongoing modern plague is pinpointing COVID-19 related symptoms early and adherence to virus-related safety protocols.
"You want to have symptom checking before you let people back in the office. You want to make sure that they maintain a distance in various locations in the office, maybe conference rooms or common areas," said Sprinzen. "If somebody is determined to have some symptoms, you want to see who they've been in contact with [and] obviously get to them pretty quickly. If they're supposed to be wearing masks, you want to check that."
Controlling space and relationships within a given place
Seeing as the virus can linger in the air indoors for extended periods of time, it's also critical to control the logistics and overall use of space in the workplace. The Vantiq system also allows employers to monitor social distancing protocols and other guidance such as wearing a mask or limiting the number of employees in an area at a given time.
"We're trying to make one framework for understanding what your employee base is doing so that you can get a better insight and visualization into the current status and then help direct them to being either more compliant, or just creating a safer environment," said Director of Product Marketing David Sprinzen, son of Marty Sprinzen.
Within this framework, organizations can create a "digital twin" of their workplace using their specific floor plans and overall structure. This virtual overview of a given floor or room empowers organizations to more aptly track and monitor assets, people, and behavior in that area. This could help ensure hand sanitizer stations are appropriately stocked or verify social distancing guidelines are being followed. In general, if employees are not following the rules assigned to a given space, the system can then dispatch an alert or notify a security official.
"Let's say it's a waiting room for a medical, a doctor's office within a medical facility, and you don't want more than 10 people in that room for over 10 seconds. Some people might walk in and out. So with this technology we're introducing, you do exactly that," Marty Sprinzen said. "You say, warn me, tell me, through our collaboration capability, when there are more than 10 people in that room for over 10 seconds and in addition, we could assure that the people are apart by approximately six feet using AI.
Tailoring a functional framework across industries
The necessary level of real-time monitoring related to people- and asset-tracking will vary for each industry. The accelerator brings this vast spectrum of solutions into an extensible framework intended for organization-specific customization. Once implemented, developers can further tailor these solutions to meet the company's specific needs.
"Think of it like, if you want to build a castle with a Lego set. Instead of getting all those Lego pieces and putting it together, which you can do, you have the castle halfway, three-quarters of the way built, and then you could modify it. I want to have this moat. I want water. Then you can make changes," said Marty Sprinzen.
Overall, the Vantiq system is highly modular in nature and these individual components can be added as needed. As a result, the foundational framework is set and the surveillance accessories can be incorporated after implementation.
"There are some cases where they just take it out of the box and it works pretty much as is. The way we look at it more is, 80% of the work is done, and then the last 20% is to customize it to an individual workspace, and to the assets that they have, such as the cameras, which could be different obviously in different locations," said Marty Sprinzen.
The system exists as a regular buffet of monitoring solutions and organizations can simply take what they want and leave the rest. Then there are further levels of refinement to consider. For example, an organization may choose to only monitor body temperatures and others may choose to scan for additional symptoms such as coughing or detecting red eyes using artificial intelligence.
A surreal new normal at the workplace
As more companies look to harness these surveillance technologies, it's safe to say that the modern workplace is going to look and feel very different. For the time being, it seems as though individual privacy is taking a backseat to overall public safety during the pandemic, but the president of the National Workrights Institute, Lewis Maltby, is concerned about unintended collateral damage.
"Employers are legitimately concerned about asymptomatic employees spreading the virus at work. If we had enough testing capacity, it might make sense to take people's temperature when they report for work and test those with a fever to be tested for COVID-19," explained Maltby. "If they test negative, they go to work. If they test positive, they go home until they test positive for the antibodies that indicate immunity. Until we have that testing capacity, we're seeing a nightmare where thousands of workers who just have a cold lose their jobs indefinitely."
Maltby also worries that the pandemic may give rise to other surveillance tools such as employers monitoring web searches in the event an employee is looking to better understand COVID-19 symptoms and more. Regardless, one looming question remains: What will happen to these monitoring platforms once the coronavirus pandemic has subsided? Will these systems be dismantled, modified, or are these new surveillance technologies simply ingrained into the very fabric of the modern workplace?
"No executive wants to be the one who is blamed if they eliminate a useless program and something goes wrong. Temperature scans at the office door may be dropped after the pandemic is over, but increased video and computer monitoring will probably be with us forever," said Maltby.
- DevOps: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)
- Technology in education: The latest products and trends (free PDF) (TechRepublic download)
- Hiring Kit: Autonomous Systems Engineer (TechRepublic Premium)
- Technology that changed us: The 1970s, from Pong to Apollo (ZDNet)
- These smart plugs are the secret to a seamless smart home (CNET)
- The 10 most important iPhone apps of all time (Download.com)
- Tom Merritt's Top 5 series (TechRepublic on Flipboard)