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Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve all had to get used to standing in long lines outside due to the need for social distancing. But as we move into the winter months, it’s become clear that stores and organizations may need a better way of organizing lines.

SEE: Digital Transformation: A CXO’s guide (ZDNet/TechRepublic special feature) | Download the free PDF version (TechRepublic)

Dave Chura, a Los Angeles-based developer, was at home with his wife when he saw a commercial for IBM’s Call For Code competition featuring Lady Gaga. The annual competition brings together the best ideas from across the globe in order to solve persistent problems.

In an interview, Chura said he turned to his wife and explained an idea that had been bouncing around his head for awhile: An app or platform that could use GPS to allow people to “stand” in a digital line organized by a store. From there, it took just three weeks for Chura to build Safe Queue, a solution that seeks to replace physical lines at shopping centers, small businesses, and polling places with on-demand virtual lines.

Dave Chura created Safe Queue as part of the IBM Call for Code Global Challenge 2020.
Image: IBM

“My wife and Lady Gaga told me it was a good idea, so at that point I said I had to do this,” Chura joked. “Having a great idea is one thing, but having to actually act on it and have it work for someone else is a completely different thing. It’s much harder to do, it takes more people, more effort to make. What I saw with Call For Code and IBM was the ability to make good on a good idea.”

After putting together the solution in three weeks, he entered it into the Call For Code contest, and judges eventually named Safe Queue one of the top five solutions in this year’s Call for Code Global Challenge.

Daniel Krook, IBM CTO leading the Call for Code Global Initiative, said that in May, his team worked with Chura to refine his idea, test it out and get feedback from users about improvements that could be made.

“Safe Queue uses GPS location data to create a virtual queue of those within 1,000 feet of a location, allowing employees to control the queue digitally, and validating entry with a randomly generated QR code for each customer,” Krook said. “This solution builds on IBM Cloud Foundry for web app hosting, HERE technologies for geolocation, Twilio for SMS messaging, and IBM Cloudant to store geospatial data.”

SEE: IBM names regional finalists in Call for Code 2020 competition (TechRepublic)

Once Chura, Krook, and the IBM team were happy with the refinements, they ran a test with Waffle Cabin, a staple restaurant at ski resorts with 42 locations across 11 states.

Last month, Waffle Cabin owner Peter Creyf did a short test run using Safe Queue at Long Beach location in Long Island. Creyf said restaurants had to start using technology like this in order to survive during the pandemic while keeping customers safe.

“Using Safe Queue to manage lines of customers at our business during this pandemic can be a game-changer,” Creyf said. “Safe Queue is making it possible for us to manage lines of customers safely and efficiently so we can focus on our core business. It’s a way for us to tell our customers that we care about their safety. Even businesses that are not IT savvy can benefit from this free solution. We look forward to expanding our Safe Queue usage across our locations including at ski resorts and events in the months ahead.”

He went on to say that there was no pushback from any customers about using the tool, which does not require any downloads and can be used through the web. Most customers either didn’t care about using it or were happy that the restaurant was trying to innovate and protect them.

The app allows employees of Waffle Cabin to virtually manage long lines of customers, allowing them to wait elsewhere until it’s their turn to come to the window. The solution largely eliminated long lines, freed up sidewalk space, and gave customers the chance to wait in their car or somewhere else.

Chura is still working on improvements, hoping to make it even more customizable for users. But he noted that the solution does not require any sign-ups or logins, is completely anonymous and has no advertisements.

Krook said he can already imagine a variety of use cases for Safe Queue far beyond restaurants. The tool, he explained, could be used by disaster relief organizations, voter advocacy groups, and others.

Safe Queue is already in use at businesses and enterprises of all sizes in Canada, the United States, India, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Some organizations, like the National Ski Area Association, have already included Safe Queue in their winter “Pandemic Playbook,” which is available to more than 300 ski resorts and 400 ski suppliers across the country.

“The recent test with Waffle Cabin in Long Island gave us another view into how the technology best integrates into the customer service flow and simplifies the experience for employees and customers alike,” Krook said. “Through feedback from Safe Queue users, we continue to help Dave enhance the solution and turn some of the abstract ideas into valuable features that benefit all types of users.”