What you need to know
- IK Multimedia has launched a wearable designed for social distancing.
- It only works with other Safe Spacer devices.
- Apple could, theoretically, open up watchOS APIs to do the same.
No matter where you live or what your government is doing, businesses around the world will eventually reopen and more people will be back out in the world, interacting with each other. As companies are preparing for the safest way to get back to work, IK Multimedia, the tech company famous for its iRig lineup and other tech gear for musicians, has launched a wearable proximity device called Safe Spacer that alerts you when you are within six feet of another person. It uses Ultra-Wideband technology to ping other Safe Spacer devices and sends both devices an alert if they are within six feet of each other.
Though this technology only works between Safe Spacer devices, it could easily be implemented for Apple Watch to be helpful in social distancing, at least to some degree.
Apple could, theoretically, open up watchOS and offer APIs that could potentially provide social distancing alerts in a similar way. It could work very similar to Apple and Google's contact tracing APIs. Everyone with an Apple Watch that chooses to opt in to social distancing alerts could get notified if they're standing too close to someone else that also opted in.
This could also extend to Apple's as-yet-unofficial Apple Tags. With Ultra Wideband already included, Tags could send an alert to your iPhone or Apple Watch if you're within six feet of someone else carrying one.
Of course, this isn't deployable on a large scale, and only people with an Apple Watch (or Apple Tag, if they ever come out) and desire to opt in would benefit from the alerts. Even if this were a feature provided alongside contact tracing apps for iPhone and Android, it's still not a perfect system.
Alternatively, the Safe Spacer is meant for businesses, which means employees at offices, warehouses, or factories could be required to carry one while at work. It could even extend to public-facing businesses, depending on the type of interaction needed. IK Multimedia shows an example of use-cases involving a museum where patrons would be given a Safe Spacer when they enter the building to carry while walking around. If a museum-goer gets to close to another person, they'd be alerted so they could step away. At the end of their visit, they'd hand the Safe Spacer back where it would be properly sanitized before being handed to a new visitor. The Safe Spacer is completely waterproof and designed to be able to handle regular sanitization cleaning.
The square device (which looks similar to an Apple Watch casing) can be worn on the wrist, with a lanyard, or on a keychain.
Because of the way the Safe Spacer is designed using Ultra-Wideband proximity sensors, RFID communication, and a Machine Learning-core accelerometer, it can be used right out of the box. No need for setup or syncing with a personal device. It's a stand-alone wearable.
If companies choose to, however, they can use the companion app to associate employees to their Safe Spacer, which provides additional contact tracing information. The device only tracks a person's position relative to other Safe Spacers, so only contacts are logged for potential tracing, providing employee privacy and security.
The alert comes in three forms — sound, vibration, and lights. No matter what kind of workplace you're in, the alert system should be easily noticed.
Safe Spacer is scheduled to be available in the third quarter of this year and costs about $120 per unit (discounts are available for large quantity purchases). As the year carries on and more businesses around the world open back up, we'll probably see more wearables like this hit the market. It'd be nice to see this type of technology worked into existing Apple Watches, and even other wearables like Fitbit, Garmin, Withings, and Android Wear devices.