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October 13, 2020

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Vulnerable workers: A Barbour guide

Analytics & COVID-19

Are face masks enough to protect security and retail workers? Why AI camera tech can go a step further

Dr. Boghos Boghossian, CTO and Co-founder at Ipsotek, explains why the AI tech now available to retailers and warehouse operators from surveillance cameras, such as social distancing analytics, can offer much better protection to workers and employees if utilised correctly.  

The wearing of face coverings is compulsory for anyone entering a shop in the UK, but is this enough to protect those that work in such establishments? Encountering and interacting with hundreds of people a day; shop assistants and security guards are significantly more exposed to COVID-19 than those able to work from home. Not only are some people exempt from wearing masks and some refrain from following the guidelines, but there is also a risk of people handling goods that may have been contaminated with the virus through its journey in the supply chain.

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Given that the death rate of sales and retail assistants is 75% higher amongst men and 60% higher amongst women than in the general population, it seems clear that face masks are only part of the answer and more should be done to protect the wider society. The responsibility of this now falls to employers to ensure that social distancing measures are adhered to and, perhaps more importantly, that contact with a person infected with COVID-19 is traceable. Faced with these significant challenges in difficult economic times, it is important that the right solutions are invested in.

We have seen what happens when this is not the case. Developing an effective track and trace system to monitor the spread of COVID-19 in the UK has proved to be troublesome. Various trials have been ineffective and the baton has been passed around in terms of who is taking the lead, indicating a lack of understanding of how technology can be leveraged in these unprecedented times.

However, the benefits of advanced technology such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) are now being harnessed and applied in today’s COVID-19 world. AI has long been heralded as a technology capable of enhancing our lives, but now it has the ability to positively impact public safety one step further. A.I.V.A. (Artificial Intelligence Video Analytics) could be the solution to drive changes in behaviour to re-enforce social distancing and establish an effective contact tracing system for those who have been infected with COVID-19 and have subsequently come into contact with others through their daily lives.

This technology utilises existing camera networks and applies geospatial algorithms to determine an individual’s location in the camera field of view in real-time, automatically learning the perspective of the scene and calculating the GPS coordinates accurately. In the case of social distancing, an algorithm can detect when two parties are within a metre proximity of each other, triggering an alert and logging the occurrence automatically for inclusion in detailed dashboard reports.

The cost-saving for businesses is two-fold. Firstly, it makes use of existing CCTV camera installations and secondly, it means that an algorithm can crunch all the data instead of it having to be done manually. Consider the ubiquity of cameras in stores and then theoretically applying a filter over the top that tailors the feeds to detect instances of social distancing breaches. With recent research showing that London, for example, has 627,727 cameras for 9.3 million residents (the equivalent of 67.5 cameras per 1,000 people), existing infrastructure can be game changer.

What is of utmost importance, however, is that the insights gained from applying AI are applied practically. For example, such technologies can identify hotspots where breaches of social distancing regularly occur; enabling retailers to identify the most effective route for a one way system; where protective screens need to be placed, which entrances and exits must be used to stop people crossing paths, and where hand sanitisation stations must be placed.

Taking this one step further down the supply chain, the use of A.I.V.A can also play a crucial role in warehouses. Pinpointing a particularly busy workstation or loading bay and automatically alerting employees when proximity breaches occur can help limit the spread of COVID-19.

Additionally, if a store or warehouse is informed that one of its employees or a visitor has contracted COVID-19, the use of A.I.V.A can support by helping to identify areas that the person has visited and whether there were any other people in that area at the same time. This solves the issue of businesses having to maintain an independent track and trace system without having to significantly invest in a new suite of technology.

As the pressure on retailers weighs heavy, they need to be able to rely on technology to ease the burden. And at the heart of every business is people, who must feel confident that they are being protected. AI powered video analytics can solve both these issues and ultimately decrease the chance of social distancing breaches occurring.

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