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Using AI to deal with the Pandemic

Steinbeis experts develop a health and safety concept based on artificial intelligence

If there’s one thing companies have discovered they really need in the wake of COVID-19, it’s a well-functioning crisis management system. This was something experts at the Steinbeis Consulting Center AI (STAI) were quick to realize. Their answer? They developed a health and safety concept that also offers professional crisis management revolving around data-gathering. The international Steinbeis team, comprising experts in AI, engineering, business management, and marketing, focused strongly on innovating and safety measures based on artificial intelligence.

The concept developed by the experts encompasses a variety of components, each of which has a decisive role to play during the current pandemic, also making the ideas must-consider factors for companies. How their concept works, is explained by the experts at the Steinbeis Consulting Center.

Health risks

Automatically measuring employees’ temperatures makes it possible to identify people with a high temperature. Infra-red cameras equipped with computer vision are now capable of scanning groups of up to 100 people per minute, immediately spotting anyone with a body temperature exceeding 37.1°C (98.8°F). Such cameras can also calculate the number of people in buildings or defined areas.

Companies can also use an app to provide employees with the option – on a voluntary basis – of declaring whether they belong to a high-risk group or not. Special protective measures can then be introduced for such employees. So if somebody catches the COVID-19 virus, they can use the company app to inform contacts during the incubation period.

Social distancing

Keeping a minimum distance of 1.5 or 2 meters is one way to prevent people catching infections. The experts’ health and safety concept includes fitting employees with ultra-wideband (UWB) tags that can be attached to company ID cards and allow their positions to be monitored inside buildings. This makes it possible to use data to identify and address areas within buildings that are too busy, problems with walking routes, and other critical areas. If people forget to keep their distance, the system offers ways to warn people individually. The same technology can even be used to optimize logistics routes and enhance communication between workers – using AI to optimize logistics makes it possible to design factories to work more productively.

Face masks and disinfectants

The Steinbeis Consulting Center has a broad network of international contacts, allowing it to safeguard the supply of masks (FFP2, FFP3), disinfectants, gloves, and protective clothing. The health and safety concept also covers clear disinfection protocols for toilets, washrooms, sensitive areas, door handles, etc. The same applies to rest areas put aside for potential patients.

Communication and documentation

The Steinbeis experts recommend using posters, training courses, and floor markings to show staff the right way to behave during the pandemic. As usual, as role models bosses are particularly important in this respect.

Companies are expected to introduce measures to protect and safeguard the welfare of their employees, without disrespecting their personal rights with regard to general data protection regulations. All measures covered by the concept should be transparent. And they will be even more effective and gain broader acceptance if people are encouraged to submit their own suggestions and questions. Measures should be documented in ways that make them easy to understand, and whenever possible documents should be re-issued automatically, quickly, and without omission. Such situations are very much a learning process, so it should be possible to improve measures. Documentation is also important if firms want to submit applications to the authorities to restart or continue operations. It can be used for auditing purposes and kept as a precaution in case of litigation.

The health and safety concept in use

Example of a production site: Adding UWB tags to company ID cards makes it possible to track the number of people in production areas and, if necessary, restrict access via the company app. This reduces risks posed to workers. Combined with UWB tags, modern algorithms can be accurate to as low as 40 centimeters. As well as enabling systems to plot heat maps, they can also process large volumes of data to track the distances between people and highlight problem areas in different colors over time. These heat maps can be used to pinpoint areas requiring remedial action, such as by changing building layouts or improving walking routes. They also allow workers to be informed if they come into contact with somebody who is infected. Bottom line, the company has then done everything possible to protect the health of its workers and, at the same time, prevent breakdowns in production. For sectors of industry where it is not possible to maintain safe distances, the concept includes making protective clothing available to offer additional safety measures for staff. Any investments made during the current COVID-19 pandemic can also be transferred to other areas of the company to improve logistics afterwards – such as tracking tools and floor conveyance systems.

Anything that works for factories can also be introduced to offices. Matched individually to the company (and used voluntarily), the app provides a uniform communication channel for sharing information. It also addresses the needs of crisis management, for example by issuing warnings. In the future, the tool could also be used for different formats of New Work, and replace technology that often invaded the personal privacy of employees at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis.

Out of the office and into the shopping mall: UWB tags can also be used in retailing. By attaching tags to shopping carts, they can monitor access restrictions using a system developed by the consulting center – the STAI Analytics Tool. Real-time reports provide data on whether people are following guidelines, and this information can be used to do things like change traffic lights at store entrances. The system also uses heatmaps, which the Steinbeis experts also see as an opportunity to develop marketing analysis tools in the future.

Finally, the health and safety concept can also be applied to public buildings and hospitals. Check-in systems can be introduced for visitors to register with a UWB tag on badges or armbands. This would allow security personnel to see if safety guidelines are being adhered to and produce reports. This also empowers companies to prove that they have introduced preventative measures to reduce risk for every individual.

The experts at the AI Consulting Center offer companies two-hour online crisis workshops to provide individual advice on suitable recovery strategies and show how AI can be used to implement these strategies. The experts’ aim is to arm companies with smart technology and algorithms that will keep them competitive in international markets – not just for the good of the business, but also to keep staff healthy.

For more information on the project, go to https://bit.ly/3cCw72w (German) and https://bit.ly/2ZnXTMZ




Aleksandr Malyshev (author)
Steinbeis Entrepreneur, main area: software solutions
Steinbeis Consulting Center AI (STAI) (Stuttgart)

Hilke Laich (author)
Steinbeis Entrepreneur, main area: business development
Steinbeis Consulting Center AI (STAI) (Stuttgart)

Dr. Lutz Schüppenhauer (author)
Freelance project manager, engineer in machine construction
Steinbeis Consulting Center AI (STAI) (Stuttgart)

Veronika Sallenbach (author)
Freelance project manager, regulatory and innovation management
Steinbeis Consulting Center AI (STAI) (Stuttgart)