Social distancing wristband tested in Antwerp port


A modified industrial bracelet will help companies exit lockdown all over the world, says local start-up Rombit

Beep beep

A wristband that allows social distancing to be tracked in the workplace has been released for testing by Antwerp tech start-up Rombit. The system will be put through its paces at the port of Antwerp, which has remained open throughout the coronavirus crisis.

“It is essential to keep the port operational and to ensure that our employees can work safely,” said Jacques Vandermeiren, the port’s chief executive. “We see great potential in this solution and will shortly start trials with a team of workers.”

The system, called Covid Radius, works by registering the distance between people wearing the wristbands. They beep or buzz a warning when people are too close, allowing them to back off.

This is done without the need for an internet connection or a phone signal, both of which can be unreliable in industrial settings. The system also beats smartphone apps, which suffer from large margins of error and so can produce false contact warnings, or unjustified reassurance that all is well.

We are making a huge effort to get the bracelet onto the market so that we can contribute to safely restarting the economy

- Rombit CEO John Baekelmans

In addition to proximity warnings, the system logs any close contacts. If someone subsequently comes down with the coronavirus, colleagues who may also have been exposed can be informed and appropriate measures taken.

In order to maintain privacy, the intention is that any contact tracing should be done by a health advisor or trusted third party. The employer has no access to the location data generated by the system nor to other potentially sensitive information.

The Covid Radius has been adapted from Rombit’s existing workplace safety system to reflect the new demands of the coronavirus restrictions. “The new ‘1.5 metre economy’ depends on reliable aids,” explained Rombit CEO John Baekelmans. “We are making a huge effort to get the modified bracelet onto the market so that we can contribute to safely restarting the economy.”

Baekelmans added that there had already been significant international interest in the product. If the port tests go well, the Covid Radius should be available in May, in a limited edition.

The company thinks it will be particularly useful in construction, logistics and other heavy industries where workplaces can accommodate social distancing.