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Can Physical Distance Monitoring & Smart Cameras Help Businesses Reopen Faster?

This article reviews a video and analytics solution that integrates with Cisco Meraki cloud-managed smart cameras and helps organizations re-open in accordance with CDC guidance around customer and employee safety.

May 7, 2020 5 minute read

Like organizations around the world, our customers are looking to the future and trying to implement solutions that will help overcome the technology challenges that will present themselves as we come into the "new’" normal, or what we believe will be a series of the "next" normal

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An area that many of our customers will need to overcome is convincing their employees and customers that it is safe to return to their locations. Our customers will have a lot of considerations to make here, including:

  • Ensuring personal protective equipment (PPE — masks, gloves, sanitizer, etc.) is available for employees and customers.
  • Training employees on proper use of safety equipment.
  • Limiting the number of customers entering locations at one time.
  • Creating a traffic flow pattern for entry/exit that eliminates bottle necking.
  • Needing to display diligence in taking safety into account.

Instilling customer confidence

I had a personal experience recently where I had to venture out and purchase some groceries. I went to a nearby grocery store and accomplished about 75 percent of my shopping, but many items were sold out and I had to go to another grocery store to find the rest of what we needed. 

When I arrived at the second grocery store, there was tape on the ground several feet outside of the front door and there was a store employee at the front door asking me to wait behind the line until some shoppers exited before I entered. In that moment, I felt a level of security I did not know I was missing at the first store. In the time since, when I need groceries, I have only returned to the store that is taking these extra precautions.

Naturally, I started thinking about how we can use technology to automate this effort. I also started to wonder what impact this could have on businesses. Would non-essential retailers be able to open sooner? Can we help consumers feel better about venturing back out into the public after this pandemic, or as this pandemic continues? 

Will this help our customers abide by CDC guidelines and demonstrate due diligence? How can we accomplish this? And, what is the cost versus value benefit to this type of solution?

An answer to the questions

We can accomplish automating this by using computer vision technology, utilizing Meraki smart cameras and overlaying a physical distance controls application created by our partner EVERYANGLE. This technology allows us to capture entries and exits into a location and use machine learning algorithms to accomplish highly accurate results.

Cisco Meraki cloud-managed smart cameras.
Cisco Meraki cloud-managed smart cameras

What makes the most sense?

Does it make sense to try to create alerts when two people are standing closer than six feet apart? We learned some interesting things while investigating this possibility: 
1. To do this properly, you need 100 percent video coverage in location.
2. Over 80 percent of these interactions occur at the entry/exit, or in queuing lines.
3. These interactions last for less than 10 seconds.

With these things in mind, we wanted to come up with a more impactful way to address this issue. We determined that focusing on the areas in which most of these interactions occur would allow us to reduce the number of cameras needed (and reduce cost) while maximizing the impact. 

By placing a camera at the entrance and a camera at the exit, we can very accurately capture the number of people who have entered a location and who have exited a location. This allows us to identify the number of people who are currently in a location. From there, we can take the usable square footage of a location and divide that by 6.5 feet to come up with a "safe-occupancy" level. 

Once we have identified that safe occupancy level, we can do many different things with that data.

Putting the data to work

We can create a dashboard to very simply display this information, calling out the total number of customers currently in the location and displaying how close that location is to reaching its safe-occupancy level. We can also utilize the machine learning capabilities to distinguish by age since some age groups are more susceptible to this virus than others.

Dashboard displaying data collected by the cameras.
Dashboard displaying data collected by the cameras

We can also combine this technology with digital signage for placement near the entry of these locations. These can be very simple displays which update in near real-time with either a green thumbs up, or a red X. Green thumbs up: You can enter, and you will have an opportunity to safely distance yourself from other customers. Red X: Please wait before entering as this location is at or near maximum safe occupancy. 

Simple display signs let people know if they can enter or if they need to wait.
Simple display signs let people know if they can enter or if they need to wait

As humans, we are driven by emotion, and I believe that creating a feeling of safety in consumers will help these businesses bounce back more quickly. Businesses will also need to make their employees feel safe when they return to places of work. 

This solution could help businesses receive approval to open sooner as they are demonstrating strong due diligence in taking appropriate steps to safeguard their employees and customers.

Hear more about what’s next for many businesses as they optimize the patchwork they put quickly in place, and move toward being ready for “what’s next?"

Review top use cases, installation considerations and insights your business can glean when Meraki cameras are integrated with analytics.
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