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Sensor Smarts: 4 Considerations for Post-COVID Workplaces

As economies worldwide begin recovering from COVID-19 shutdowns, companies that safely and responsibly reopen their physical spaces at scale can have a distinct competitive advantage over those that cannot do so.

Many businesses are considering the use of sensors to create smart, safe buildings. These devices range from thermographic cameras that check occupants for fevers to Bluetooth wristbands that warn wearers of people coming too close together.

Tempting as it may be to roll out such technology quickly and get back to business, deployment must be a well-orchestrated process to achieve the real benefits. If sensors are deployed incorrectly, the devices and the data they gather will fail to deliver the information businesses really need, risk violating privacy rules, and alienate employees and customers.

Here are four critical factors to consider to successfully roll out a sensor-based, smart workspace and derive maximum value:

1. Sensor technologies

The most widely deployed sensors in enabling smart, safe buildings are wearable cameras around the wrist or on a lanyard.

Thermographic cameras can detect elevated skin or core body temperatures and monitor physical distancing and occupancy density without capturing facial features.

Because these cameras have only recently been used to detect body temperature, the algorithms that analyze their output must properly account for false negatives and false positives. Businesses using these cameras should plan for backup processes to verify that temperature readings are correct. The same calibration and review methods also apply to optical cameras, which are now being used to monitor distancing and density levels.

For a rapid rollout, businesses must take into account the appropriate wearable devices – from Bluetooth to ultra-wideband/LTE-based devices – for specific environments and ensure their fitment and availability. Surging demand and COVID-19-related supply chain disruptions have led to shortages of both wearable devices and optical cameras. Standardizing on a single model of each device for each facility in each region and integrating them with a service provider can ease deployment and data gathering without waiting for suppliers to provide the necessary volume for enterprise-wide rollouts. This can be done on a monthly subscription basis, costing $20-$25 per employee per month for a manufacturing floor, for example, which outweighs the cost of not opening  a business at all.

2. Multiple stakeholders

Companies must customize smart space strategies for various stakeholders. This includes office factory/warehouse workers, contractors, temporary staff, and customers. Some industries have specific privacy requirements as well.

With office workers in commercial spaces, employers have more flexibility to use self-declared health status, wellness surveys, and mobile apps on employee phones to enable contact tracing.

Factory and warehouse workers might not have access to mobile phones in the workplace and may require LoRaWAN/UWB/LTE-based wearables that are less susceptible to interferences than Bluetooth devices.

Thermographic and optical camera based solutions can be effective for monitoring physical distancing and fever detection in public environments across several industries. , , , and  are actively evaluating, piloting, and rolling out these devices.

3. Standardization, data integration, and workflow

With so many choices in sensors as well as availability constraints, most large companies will deploy wearables and sensors from multiple manufacturers. However, all of the data they produce must be is vice president of IoT at Cognizant.

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FedEx SenseAware

Time for Tracking to Improve?

Whenever a vaccine is ready for distribution to the global population, its distribution is sure to create an entirely new batch of challenges. Accurate tracking that goes beyond the traditional scanning that many logistics providers leverage will prove instrumental, especially as security concerns surface. 

To combat these challenges FedEx recently announced the launch of SenseAware ID, a lightweight sensor-based logistics device that delivers a new level of precision tracking. The enhanced location visibility provided by this technology will create opportunities for FedEx customers to reimagine their supply chain through real-time updates on a package’s location within the FedEx Express network. SenseAware ID will improve the safety, security and timeliness of deliveries – key attributes for packages that contain critical contents such as life-saving pharmaceuticals and emergency medical supplies.

The detailed location data provided by SenseAware ID is a critical differentiator for healthcare industry customers, and FedEx expects to use this new technology with anticipated COVID-19 vaccine shipments. The rollout of SenseAware ID is well-timed as FedEx continues to move life-saving pharmaceuticals and medical supplies for healthcare customers throughout the U.S.

“Package tracking and visibility are more important now than ever, as businesses have become increasingly reliant on timely deliveries,” said Robert B. Carter, executive vice president and chief information officer, FedEx Corporation. “Created by our innovation teams at FedEx, SenseAware ID was designed to give our customers the precise level of tracking they’ve been looking for, enabling them to optimize their supply chains and make any necessary adjustments during the journey of their shipments.”

Sense AwareFedEx SenseAwareFedEx has long been a pioneer in sensor-based logistics, providing advanced tracking of urgent and high value shipments for over a decade through its proprietary SenseAware portfolio. SenseAware ID is the latest innovation in FedEx sensor technology, designed to make sensor-based logistics more accessible to FedEx customers.

SenseAware ID uses a lightweight, compact sensor that transmits precise package location data every two seconds via Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to WiFi access points or established gateway devices throughout the FedEx Express network. Packages equipped with the SenseAware ID sensor are tracked hundreds of times versus dozens of times with traditional package scanning protocols, which provides an unprecedented amount of real-time data about the location of the shipment.

As part of the initial roll-out, SenseAware ID sensors are being applied to First Overnight shipments within the U.S. domestic FedEx Express network. An initial round of customers in the healthcare, aerospace and retail industries will receive access to the enhanced data in November 2020. FedEx expects to expand access to this precision location data to additional customers throughout the first half of 2021. SenseAware ID will eventually be made available for a broad range of premium FedEx Express services.

The enhanced package visibility data provided by SenseAware ID will give FedEx healthcare customers the opportunity to closely monitor and proactively protect shipments using additional FedEx healthcare services, including cold-chain storage, thermal blankets and temperature controlled containers. SenseAware ID is expected to play a critical role in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines using the FedEx First Overnight service, helping ensure these sensitive shipments are delivered quickly and safely.