Measuring Occupancy for Social Distancing

Governments are increasingly mandating workplace indoor occupancy limits due to the Coronavirus pandemic. This is especially so in education where the risk of reduced social distancing is being mitigated with occupancy limits.

Occupancy is the number of people that are currently inside a building, room or zone. Measuring occupancy manually requires significant effort, additional staff, is error prone and is difficult to achieve, especially when there are multiple entrances and exits.

It’s for this reason, we are seeing organisations starting to use automated approaches. Real time locating systems (RTLS) such as our BeaconRTLS™ use Bluetooth beacons on people and gateways in rooms/zones to track who is where. The resultant data provides for accurate current and historical occupancy.

Once you have a system in place it has lots of other uses:

  • Finding people
  • Locating staff for safety and evacuation
  • Finding expensive assets shared amongst staff
  • Providing alerts if things move when they shouldn’t
  • Detecting when collisions occur between vehicles/racking
  • Tracing of parts, sub-assemblies and physical orders
  • Supporting IoT sensing including light, temperature, humidity, water leak, gas
  • Creating big data for use with AI to provide insights using patterns the data

Read more about BeaconRTLS™

Advertising Change Stream

If you work in IT and particularly if you have knowledge of programming, you will know it’s best to be informed of data rather than repeatedly request changes.

Repeatedly requesting changes, called polling, wastes resources when there’s no data returned. It also doesn’t get the data as soon it is available as you have to wait for the next poll.

A feature of our BeaconServer™ and BeaconRTLS™ is that they offer change stream data on all database data. Change stream is a standard web (HTTP(S)) protocol that provides data to systems and apps as and when it becomes available. The client sets up a long running HTTP connection and then receives updates.

You can try this yourself in a normal web browser using our BeaconServer™ demo that is currently receiving data from a Minew beacon:

You should get something like:

First you get an ‘ok’ followed by data as and when it becomes available. The above only shows a generic iBeacon. When used with sensor beacons this also includes all decoded data such as movement, temperature, humidity, air pressure, light and magnetism (hall effect), proximity (short range IR and PIR) and fall detection.

BeaconServer™ and BeaconRTLS™ provide REST based insert, update, query and change stream on all data allowing external systems and apps to fully use the system. This can also be authenticated via HTTP header tokens to prevent unauthorised access.

An example of use of the change stream is BeaconRTLS™ itself. The web UI uses the change stream to asynchronously update the UI with no flicker or redraw. All data, including beacons, locations and alerts are obtained asynchronously from the server (image below not live at it needs login):

Thoughts From Industry 4.0 Expo

Last week we exhibited at the Industry 4.0 Summit Factories of the Future Expo. Unfortunately, the bad weather in the UK kept visitors away and the event only attracted half those who had registered. Nevertheless, we had some good conversions. We were showing most of our beacons and running a live demo of BeaconRTLS:

A conversation that remains with us included a comment by someone working on R&D at Unilever who said he thought what were showing represented the purest sense of Industry 4.0 he had found at the whole Expo. That is, it provides for the creating non-silo’d sensor data that can be used by Industry 4.0 applications.

Beacons and The 4th Industrial Revolution

We previously wrote about how beacons are part of Industry 4.0 and how implementations need to achieve a return on investment. Industry 4.0 is also being called ‘The 4th Industrial Revolution’ (4IR).

Oracle and the EEF have an excellent free, recent, paper (registration NOT required) on The 4th Industrial Revolution: A Primer for Manufacturers. It concludes 4IR isn’t hype and should be taken seriously. Here’s how manufacturers themselves see 4IR:

Manufacturing is undergoing a transformation. The report says it’s all about data connectivity. However, the report falls short on explaining how data can be sensed and captured. Sensor beacons, gateways and beacon platforms such as our BeaconRTLS are one such solution that helps fill that gap.

Read more about beacons and the IoT

How Does Using Beacons for Tracking Compare with the Use of RFID?

The main difference between beacons and RFID is the range. RFID only works up to 1m while beacons typically reach 50m to 100m, even more for specialist beacons. It’s also possible to get an indication of distance to the beacon whereas with RFID it’s just ‘seen’ or ‘not seen’.

RFID tags are less expensive than beacons. However, as the range of beacons is much larger, fewer readers are required thus compensating for the extra cost. It’s also possible to totally cover a much larger area.

Beacons and Lone Workers

There are types of working where workers work alone without close or direct supervision. Employers have a legal duty of care to monitor such employees so that they can detect accidents, illness and, in some cases, an attack.

There are some rudimentary systems in place, particularly on sites such as airports, that use short range (1cm) RFID tags that workers have to periodically ‘check in’ to. With beacons, workers don’t have to check in and much of this is now automated. It also works at much larger ranges up to 300m.

Our BeaconRTLS system maps lone workers. Alerts can be created that show when people haven’t changed zone for a configurable amount of time. It’s also possible to trigger alerts when people enter or leave zones or when they press an ’emergency’ button on the beacon.

What’s more, the system can be used to map assets as well as people and when used with sensor beacons can detect and alert based on environmental factors such as temperature, humidity or whether doors are open or closed.

Contact us about BeaconRTLS.