Covid-19 UWB and Bluetooth workplace tracker promises very high precision social distance monitoring to avoid unnecessary testing


Ultra-wideband (UWB) is a low power wireless technology that can transmit data over short distances and simultaneously enables high accuracy indoor proximity-based locationing

Nordic Semiconductor today announces that German manufacturer and developer of embedded micro-devices, PHYTEC, is employing a Nordic Semiconductor nRF52832 Bluetooth® System-on-Chip (SoC)-based module – the Decawave DWM1001C – in a UWB and Bluetooth workplace social distancing tracker that was developed specifically to combat Covid-19.
Called the ‘Distancer’ and designed to worn around the neck like an employee ID card, PHYTEC says the wearable enables highly accurate face-to-face separation measurements to be made with much more certainty and accuracy (± 5-10cm) than other Covid-19 workplace wearables. As a result, PHYTEC claims that its Distancer could avoid the unnecessary testing of thousands of employees who may have worked within the vicinity of an infected colleague, but did not actually breach the recommended 2m social distancing rule.
“When it comes to Covid-19 contact tracing within the workplace there’s a big difference between whether someone has been within 1m, 1.5m or 2m of another colleague,” comments Axel Berghoff, Key Accounts, PHYTEC. “Our device is designed to remove any guesswork by not only enabling rapid, high accuracy contact tracing, but to also deter workplace colleagues from breaking the social distancing rules by audibly alarming when within 2m range of each other, and alarming even more loudly when they are within the 1.5m high risk contamination zone.
Nordic’s chips are by far the best-supported Bluetooth SoCs in Zephyr
Jonas Remmert, PHYTEC
“We believe the combination of a continuous physical deterrent and high accuracy contact tracing will save many companies from having to unnecessarily test thousands of workers as they return to work following the relaxing of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions in many parts of the world.”
In operation, the PHYTEC Distancer is worn by all employees within a given place of work from the moment they arrive to the moment they leave. The device is designed to automatically record whenever two employees wearing the device come within 1.5m or less of each other and for how long. PHYTEC is keen to stress that this data is stored locally in Flash memory and only uploaded via encrypted Bluetooth wireless communication via the Nordic SoC to a customer’s own company IT servers.
The use of Nordic Semiconductor-based Bluetooth wireless technology also enables over-the-air (OTA) firmware and software updates to be made to an entire installed base of Distancers as and when required.
“The fact that the Decawave DWM1001C employs a Nordic Semiconductor Bluetooth SoC was a key deciding factor when developing the Distancer,” comments Jonas Remmert, R&D Engineer at PHYTEC. “Aside from the fact we have been working with Nordic for many years, to develop the Distancer in as little time as possible we also wanted to leverage the open source Zephyr real-time operating system and its developer community. This saved us having to develop a lot of common code such as timing and networking interfaces, and threading for parallel processing. Nordic’s chips are by far the best-supported Bluetooth SoCs in Zephyr and as a result the Distancer was developed from initial concept to working prototype in just four weeks.”
“Even as lockdown restrictions are eased and company workforces gradually return to work, Covid-19 will remain a risk factor for some time,” comments Geir Langeland, Nordic Semiconductor’s Director of Sales & Marketing. “As such something is needed to strongly encourage social distancing measures to be observed even when workers are distracted, along with the ability to perform rapid contact tracing should someone contract the virus. Wearables are emerging as one of the most promising workplace solutions.”
PHYTEC currently offers a starter kit for any companies interested in seeing how the Distancer works. PHYTEC says it welcomes enquires from potential partners who wish to help PHYTEC market and sell the Distancer in local B2B markets around the world, as well as OEMs who wish to sell the Distancer under their own brand. (All sales enquiries and questions can be sent direct to Mr.Ralf Orschau, Head of Sales, PHYTEC, Email: [email protected] ; and for technical questions, please add Mr.Martin Podolszki, Head of FAE & Support, Email: [email protected]).