Farewell open source

A year ago today we found ourselves in San Francisco proudly accepting an Elastic Search Award.

A year ago today, COVID-19 had not yet been declared a global pandemic, and the Elastic Stack was open source. Today, the Elastic Stack is no longer open source, and we’re in the second wave of a global pandemic. Reflecting on the past year we ask:

How is it that we were able to double down on open source (software and hardware!) during a global crisis while some organisations instead changed course?

Organisations?   As in more than one?   Yes.   Here we are referring to Oxford University reversing its decision to open source their coronavirus vaccine. And Elastic’s license change which was announced in January of this year.

What’s so special about open source, you may ask?

In a word, community. At Elastic{ON} 2020 we were impressed by many things, but none more than the strong sense of community among Elastic’s diverse and distributed workforce and network of contributors, partners and investors. A project on the scale of the Elastic Stack inspires purposeful contribution, not just to the code base, but to the project as a whole, from the community and, critically, for the community.

Open source is about distribution terms (i.e. implications for the community), not just access to code. Hence the OSD: Open Source Definition. And that’s where Elastic’s recent license change establishes terms outside of this definition, with resulting implications for the community, even if the code remains as accessible as before.

Imagine now the Oxford vaccine being distributed as open source, as originally intended. Imagine the strong sense of global community this would have instilled, let alone the purposeful contributions it would have received to facilitate both distribution (130 countries still had not administered a single vaccination around the time of writing, according to UNICEF!) and continuous improvement as new challenges and strains of the virus emerge.

Why the departure from open source, you may ask?

In a word, pressure. We invite the reader to inform themselves and draw their own conclusions as to the source(s) of pressure for both Oxford and Elastic to reverse course on open source. And, critically, to identify what prevented each organisation’s leadership from successfully resisting that pressure?

Indeed we too received pressure against open sourcing Pareto Anywhere and its precursors. This past year, our decisions to open source DirAct and our ca-va-bracelet open hardware collaboration were strongly contested. How were we able to successfully resist? The ownership structure of our purpose-driven organisation affords us—and only us—the final say.

Will we continue to use the Elastic Stack?   Yes, of course. It remains an outstanding example of open source collaboration and we remain proud of our award and contributions! Let’s look back again in a year to see what impact the recent license change will have had for the community.

Will people still get vaccinated?   Yes, of course. The global vaccine effort has been unprecedented even if the precedent of proprietariness remains unbroken. Let’s look back again in a year to see what impact this approach will have had on immunisation rates for the global community.

Finally, were we ourselves A Fool to Open Source? We mused tongue-in-cheek about the subject in our traditional April Fool’s blog post five years ago. As we hope we’ve shown, there is clearly no consensus—even in the software industry where the open source movement began decades ago. For those who bade farewell to open source this past year, we trust that their communities—of which we are a part—will continue to fare well. We nevertheless maintain our philosophy that open source is what’s best for the community.

Already a decade? For reels?

Valentine’s Day 2021 represents a special anniversary for reelyActive: ten years ago today the first sketches of the “reel” concept were inscribed in Jeff’s notebook below (left page).

Reel sketches

At the time, the concept was entitled daisy chain / icicle light receivers, the idea being that radio receivers could be connected in series like strings of lights. At scale, we imagined long cables of equally spaced receivers being distributed on reels, hence the term reelceiver which would later be adopted. In fact, reelyActive owes its name to the reel concept combined with active radio-frequency identification (RFID).

Reel pitch

The first pitch of the reel to prospective co-founders, illustrated in the slide above, took place seven months later. And, thanks to co-founder Traian’s assembly of the first JTR-02 prototypes on New Year’s Eve, the first successful test of daisy-chained reelceivers would take place on New Year’s Day 2012, as seen in the photo below, in the building adjacent to that of the world’s first scheduled radio broadcast.

First reelceiver test

The first generation of reelceivers greatly simplified asset tracking and personnel tracking applications using our own 915MHz active RFID tags, but the real (reel?) breakthrough came in 2013 when Bluetooth Low Energy first became standard on consumer mobile devices. With a second-generation reelceiver able to detect any Bluetooth Low Energy device, the concept of bring-your-own-device real-time location (BYOD RTLS) became a distinct possibility:

In 2021, even after eight years, that same Bluetooth Low Energy reelceiver continues to gain in relevance and is a part of all of our ambient data gateways in one of several modular forms. And our reel technology page outlines why:

The reel overcomes the power & connectivity challenge inherent to every deployment. Simply be plugging together ubiquitous network cables, both power and connectivity are delivered with bulletproof reliability.

In fact, there are reelceivers which have been in continuous operation since 2012, save for the power and network outages from which they have always automatically recovered!

Reel of Three

Admittedly, the insight behind the reel is non-obvious to those whom have never faced the challenge of deploying infrastructure throughout a “smart space”. Perhaps it is therefore fitting that the flagship deployment of our unique reel architecture is in a building of truly unique architecture itself: the world’s tallest inclined tower!

Reel Inclined Tower

As we discuss in our previous blog post, the reel infrastructure in the Desjardins DTM deployment in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium Tower enables use cases that we hadn’t even imagined when the reel concept itself was first imagined a decade ago today.

The reel is today enabling use cases we hadn’t even imagined when the concept itself was first imagined a decade ago.

Indeed, the reel has stood the test of time, remaining not only relevant—but also peerless—over the past decade. And, even if today our leading product and innovation has become our Pareto Anywhere open source software in lieu of the enabling hardware, we could not be more proud to have the novel reel as the namesake of reelyActive.

Happy Valentine’s Day!   For reels!

Open for business today and a better tomorrow

As we begin 2021 in the second (or even third!) wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses around the world have by now, with few exceptions, been forced to shift, scale or even suspend their operations. During the first wave, many companies and organisations sought out contact tracing and social distancing solutions to minimise or delay any such disruptions. Indeed, we were proud to have mature interaction detection technologies such as DirAct ready to contribute to these endeavours, which, moreover, offered to serve as a launching pad for businesses to adopt and integrate location insights throughout their operations, thereby emerging from the pandemic with a competitive edge.

That’s why this week we were pleased to read the market research note How Bluetooth® Technology is Enabling Safe Return Strategies in a COVID-19 Era. The report’s conclusion begins by validating what has been our value proposition before—and continues to be during and beyond—the pandemic:

While it is clear that many solutions are emerging that target COVID-19 related applications, there is benefit in devising an overall RTLS and smart building strategy that can leverage location insights using Bluetooth® technology to provide both COVID-19-related and other, wider use cases in a holistic manner while also opening up the possibility for additional valuable use cases to be added over time.

Case in point, our Desjardins DTM deployment, which features a building-wide real-time location system (RTLS). The office tower provides occupancy analytics from ambient Bluetooth® devices, data which proved to be particularly pertinent as occupancy patterns shifted drastically following lockdown and subsequent safe return initiatives. Desjardins’ smart building strategy proved its merits and, with our location infrastructure already in place, lends itself to new contact tracing and/or asset tracking use cases as part of a safe return strategy simply by introducing Bluetooth® badges and/or tags from any vendor.

Of course, most businesses do not already have infrastructure in place providing location insights. And, as the market research note highlights, the unfortunate reality for a typical RTLS is that “the implementation cost [is] higher than the cost of equipment installed in many cases” and “lockdown measures have made it difficult for [vendors] to implement their equipment in the marketplace.” In other words,

good luck deploying a RTLS during a pandemic!

However, thanks to the proliferation of standard Bluetooth® devices and gateways, and accessible open source software like Pareto Anywhere, a location insights platform need not be costly nor complicated. Case in point, in the first months of the pandemic, a Canadian poultry processor was able to validate the contact tracing use case for their facility, where workers must perform their duties in close proximity, using our plug-and-play Showcase Kit which their IT team successfully deployed themselves. The tests they performed in their workplace suggested that personnel tracking would better serve their needs than contact tracing, and ultimately they were able to validate this and additional use cases using the very same equipment.

Ten months into the global pandemic, for many businesses, the priority remains to keep their workplace safe and open. Desjardins and other organisations with advanced smart building strategies benefited from location insights on day one. For others, as we’ve shown, there is an effective and viable means to catch up. As the market research note highlights, a single COVID-19-related use case opens up the possibility for additional valuable use cases over time.

When every day is a new normal, access to daily location insights provides an edge for a business to stay safely open today and to emerge stronger tomorrow.   Here’s to a stronger tomorrow.

Anticipating the Social Dilemma

Three days ago, on September 9th, 2020, Netflix released The Social Dilemma which “explores the dangerous human impact of social networking, with tech experts sounding the alarm on their own creations.” A recurring theme in the eye-opening documentary-drama hybrid is how technology is manipulated to disconnect “users” from their own reality, and to predict and influence their behaviour. This disconnect is essentially what the co-founders of reelyActive attempted to represent with the first slide of our first pitch deck at the FounderFuel accelerator in 2012:

We kicked off that pitch arguing that our information is increasingly becoming digital, but the human world isn’t digital!   Did we correctly anticipate The Social Dilemma?   In this post, we’ll journey from 2012 forward to the present day to revisit our thoughts and actions on this subject.

In 2013 we blogged about Physical Expression, Digital Expression, and the Penis T-Shirt (oh, do we have your attention now?) where we argued that

As long as digital expression is curated by physical presence, we would expect [individuals to abide by the norms of real-world social interaction].

That year we created the aptly named Log in to Life experiment which flipped the industry paradigm, enabling digital content to accompany one’s physical presence. Demonstrating this at StartupFest was key to us securing a trip to the Startup World Finals in SF later that year, where we toured Facebook, to which we hinted Facebook, you might “like” this. That same week we won the title World’s Best Startup with the following pitch:

Indeed, the Internet of Things seemed poised as the catalyst for The Age of Hyperlocal Context in which we were not alone in arguing that

it seems self-evident that we should own our own data and that any third-party should need our permission to use it.

In 2014 all the technologies were finally in place for a manifestation of Log in to Life to scale, which we pitched to industry players in our “Advertise Yourself” keynote at Bluetooth World. We felt the shift from Smart Phones to Smart Spaces was set to begin, as we illustrated in the following video which long graced our landing page:

Should technology interrupt us from living in the present moment? Of course not!

In 2015 we crafted our first privacy policy in line with our mission, which concluded with:

Wish we had more to tell you but honestly, we really want to have as little as possible to do with your personal information aside from enabling you to share it when you want, where you want and with whom you want!

Of course, championing the notion that your data is your data was, and sadly still is, far from conventional. In The Bank of Personal Data we quoted Roberto Minerva at the IoT World Forum in Milan, where we published more of our research, jokingly responding to our question about managing personal data:

You put your money in a bank, and the bank acts as a broker for you, investing your money as you see fit. But the money always belongs to you. Of course this is not always the case in Italy…

Indeed, as The Social Dilemma confirmed for personal data, neither is this always the case in the technology industry…

In 2016 we were prompted to ask the question, is reelyActive a social network?

The answer: No. “Where we think we’ll have an impact is on the future of social networking.” And we speculated on that future with The IoT as your Brand Ambassador.

The IoT acts as our real-time brand ambassador, compiling the relevant information beyond our limited scope and calmly delivering it to us in our here and now.

By 2017, there was no reason why a social network could not reconnect their “users” with their physical reality and context, and we predicted that 2017 would be the year one would do just that. Moreover, we demonstrated how Google had inadvertently created the underlying technology to “Advertise” yourself with the Physical Web, and beyond…. However, whenever we’d meet at conferences, Scott Jenson, then head of the Physical Web, would always specify that “Google does not intend it to be used for that.”

So why wasn’t this happening? Why weren’t we Creating the next computing industry? In an e-mail exchange with Alan Kay that same year, he argued that

“the goodness of the results is most highly correlated with the goodness of the funding”

Indeed that was representative of our experience as a technology startup in the 2010s: there was no shortage of available funding, but, alas, no longer the good funding characteristic of the era when Kay was successfully “inventing the future”.

By the end of the year, Facebook boasted 2 billion monthly active users to which we argued—in vain—for the sake of a struggling retail industry, Facebook, it’s time to “share” your view of the customer.

In 2018 we wondered about Digital avatars in meatspace, and the absence thereof and the economic model Beyond People-as-a-Product. And then we began to observe a refreshing shift in attitudes, especially in Europe where we attended the Pirate Summit. This provoked Self-reflection: rethinking ownership where we imagined the world we’d live in today if the likes of Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook weren’t beholden to shareholder value.

what if each company could put their founding purpose first, ahead of investor interests?

We attempted to transition reelyActive to steward-ownership to enshrine our founding purpose but were again met with a dearth of good funding to pursue such good results. Our team did however sign The Copenhagen Letter which enshrines our values as a technology company at the service of humanity.

Perhaps there was Still Place for optimism?

In 2019 our traditional April Fool’s post, 5G and the Digitally Conjoined Twin, where personal data was stored in a computer literally strapped to one’s arm, had become more satire than tongue-in-cheek.

“With this setup I can literally pull the plug on my data at any time. It’s a USB cable connected to a power pack.”

We committed to full transparency on How we observe both online and physical behaviour.

At the Collision conference, we adopted the view that Data is Human, and the philosophy of Immanuel Kant:

“Treat people as an end, and never as a means to an end.”

Finally, we found solidarity with the tenets of Who owns the future? by Jaron Lanier, who, unsurprisingly, features prominently in The Social Dilemma.

Taking comfort in our alignment with Lanier’s hypothesis and predictions in this critical look back at our past seven years, we shall indeed press on, continuing to keep people in the centre of our vision for the future.

And now in 2020, what can we say looking back with 20/20 (ugh) hindsight?   Did we anticipate The Social Dilemma?   Yes.   Did we advocate for and work tirelessly towards a human-centric alternative?   Yes.   Did we share this openly with the likes of Facebook, Google and the public?   Yes.   Is there still cause for optimism?   Yes.   Why?

As Buckminster Fuller (who tops our bibliography) wisely argued:

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

If you’ve read this far (thank you!) you’ve surely gained a strong sense that we champion a new model where:

  • your data is your data
  • digital serves to enhance the physical human experience
  • contributing entities enshrine purpose over profit

And, as The Social Dilemma suggests, there’s never been a better time than now to make that new model a reality—a human-centric future as our collective reality.

Neighbours in Radio History

On May 20th, 1920, history was made from the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Co. building in Montréal with the transmission of the world’s first scheduled radio broadcast. An audience in Ottawa tuned in nearly two-hundred kilometres away to enjoy a live vocal performance which was transmitted successfully from an aerial atop the building on William Street, seen in the photo below.

Marconi Wireless Telegraph Co. of Canada on William Street

The fact that our native Montréal occupies an important place in the history of radio is an obvious source of pride. But what is even more striking in the photo above is the neighbouring building to the right. It is in that building that reelyActive was founded in 2012 and in which our own pioneering radio experiments were first conducted, some, like our novel reel infrastructure, which have been in continuous operation on site to this day!

The birthplace of reelyActive and of broadcast radio are in fact William Street neighbours!

In 1920, experimental was the idea of a scheduled radio broadcast to an audience who would intentionally tune in at a regional scale. One hundred years later, radio broadcasts have gone from sparse to ubiquitous and from human-to-human (H2H) largely to machine-to-machine (M2M). As such, experimental today is the idea of spontaneous radio broadcasts to opportunistic machine-audiences at a human scale of no more than tens of metres. In other words, radio broadcasts have become ambient data, and, today, we are pioneering the opportunity to embrace the ambient data in your space.

The neighbourhood of Griffintown is also the birthplace of the industrial revolution in Canada.

The connection between the historic neighbourhood in which reelyActive was founded and the role it played in the first industrial revolution was never lost on us in light of our own connection with Industry 4.0. However, we hadn’t realised how literally close we were to the history of radio until we stumbled upon recent articles on the Web which deeply connected us with our immediate physical surroundings. Imagine how much richer the human experience could be if our physical location and context were continuously (and consensually!) connected with the wealth of digital information on the Web! That’s exactly what we call hyperlocal context, enabled by our Pareto Anywhere open source software which, by combining short-range broadcast radio and the Internet, in effect, makes physical spaces searchable like the Web.

Read more about the centennial of radio broadcasting from the Montreal Gazette, Canadian Antique Phonograph Society and Ultra TCS (formerly Marconi).

Every Day is a New Normal

In the Spring of 2020, as COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, and as lockdowns ensued, the question of the day was “when will we get back to normal?”

Soon thereafter, as the unprecedented socioeconomic consequences of the pandemic became apparent, the question of the day became “what will be the new normal?”

In either case, these questions suppose a certain stable state: normal. In the former question it is the previous stable state, in the latter it is an expected future stable state. But what if normal were in fact to become an unstable state, as it often has over the course of history, both of our species and of the universe?

What if normal were to become an unstable state?

Indeed, consider the countless individuals and organisations for whom normal has already become anything but stable. Perhaps the question we should be asking today is whether every day will be a new normal?

What if every day is a new normal?

It may well be. And for some time at that. Even if history tells us we can expect an eventual return to stability, there is no certainty in how soon.

For those who embrace change, what an opportunity this period represents!

When every day is a new normal, it is normal to expect breakthrough innovation on any given day. The tireless champions of progressive policies within their organisations may see changes for which they advocated for a decade be adopted in a single decision. Agile, forward-thinking businesses will capture footholds and disrupt even seemingly invincible hegemons, wherever and whenever the incumbents are too slow or indecisive to adapt. As reality changes, so do ideas.

Speed will outpace size as a critical determinant of survival.

We incorporated reelyActive 8 years ago envisaging a radically different—and better—future enabled by technology. Looking back, our greatest challenge was not one of technology, but rather of overcoming resistance to change. To those individuals and organisations who have tenaciously endured this challenge with us, know that we’re with you. So long as every day is a new normal, every day is an opportunity for significant and meaningful progress. Let’s combine our strengths and energies to make the most of every day in this unprecedented period of time in human history.   Seriously.   Contact us.

GR8 changes ahead

It’s July 2020, and today we celebrate reelyActive’s eighth anniversary of incorporation amidst a global pandemic and a tumultuous global climate, both political and planetary. If anything is certain, it is that great changes lie ahead.

After the team flew to San Francisco in March to proudly accept an Elastic Search Award for “making physical spaces searchable like the Web,” within a matter of days, everything changed with the global spread of COVID-19. We abruptly lost our single biggest active client to bankruptcy, and, due to lockdown, lost access for visitors and prospective clients to our new Park Avenue Research Centre (connu également comme Crap), which was core to our business strategy.

We had to change our business to survive. And we did.

Businesses that are adaptive and resilient stand the best chance to survive the indefinite disruption to the economy and to their operations. Moreover, as a “new normal” emerges, such businesses are most likely to see the inevitable changes as opportunities rather than obstacles. Those businesses are now our best prospective clients.

Almost exactly one year ago we asked Are we selling discomfort? The answer is YES, and it is good that we are because buying (and selling!) comfort isn’t a viable strategy for the foreseeable future.

The businesses, organisations and individuals that will emerge the strongest are those that find their comfort in continuous change, embracing a culture of continuous improvement.

And if the “new normal” which emerges is to be led by such forward-thinking actors in critical numbers, is it too ambitious to imagine this as the definitive start of the third industrial revolution, Industry 4.0 and/or catallaxy? Many of the authors featured in our bibliography would surely argue that this essential to the advancement of humanity—if not the very survival of our species!

Again, if anything is certain, it is that great changes lie ahead. From a macro perspective, it is not difficult to argue that such change is both necessary and overdue. It’s a good time to embrace change, and we at reelyActive enter our ninth year with exactly that in mind.

Embrace the ambient data in your space

In February of 2020, we updated the one-liner of landing page to Embrace the ambient data in your space. We did this for two reasons:

  1. observing and processing all the ambient wireless packets in a space is a key differentiator of our technology platform
  2. enhancing the human experience by augmenting physical presence with digital data is core to our vision

This post is about the second. It’s about the human experience. Following the update of our one-liner, we stumbled upon a book entitled Ambient Commons, published in 2013, a year after reelyActive was founded. Having recently read the Jaron Lanier’s prescient Who Owns the Future from the same year, discussed here in our blog, we were curious what author Malcolm McCullough might argue about “attention in the age of embodied information”, the subtitle of his book.

The notion of combining physical location (using RTLS) with digital augmentation (using the Web) is one of the founding insights of reelyActive. Ambient connectivity was already an established concept at the time thanks to widespread smartphone penetration. Ambient location however was a nascent idea, at least at a human scale, and was predicated on the emergence of new technologies.

Why combine connectivity with location? Ambient Commons addresses this from the start:

May the ambient invite tuning in instead of tuning out. May it do so with an emergent sense of a whole, or at least of continuum. Continuity seems lacking in a world full of separately conceived physical entities all competing for space and attention, all without concern for what is nearby, and masked by portals, links, and signs to someplace else.

In short, ambient connectivity creates countless possibilities to divert our attention elsewhere, without concern for what is nearby. This is where ambient location can act as a filter to “tune in” to one’s physical space and context.

Can the purpose of handheld electronic media move beyond communicating for the sake of communicating, beyond tuning out so much of the world through personalizing everything, to helping someone be here now, in the sense of knowing an urban commons?

Indeed! That was top of our mind too in 2013 when we discussed Helping your smartphone “baby” grow up. But alas, despite all the years that have passed, and despite our arguing in 2017 that we might be reaching peak mobile, today in 2020 our smartphones remain as capable as ever at diverting our attention away from our here and now.

How can electronic artifice bring alive a sense of belonging to the world, and not just suggest conquest, distraction, or escape?

Fortunately, two recent technologies offer cause for optimism.

Web Bluetooth Scanning affords a webpage contextual awareness of the people, products and places located in physical proximity of the browser. We created our Pareto Anywhere web app to demonstrate what might be called “physical browsing”, shown here on our IoT Day tour of Parc.

DirAct digitises real-time interactions as we show in this video, so that computers can interpret location as “who is interacting with who/what” rather than “who is where”. Interactions are often a clear indicator of intent, which is arguably the ideal filter for digital augmentation.

The physical spaces in which we live, work and play are increasingly occupied by technologies which serve as potential sources of distraction—but also as sources of ambient data for both location and digital augmentation. By embracing the ambient wireless packet data within a physical space, as made possible by our open source software, one can foster an ambient commons encouraging occupants to “tune in” and engage with one another and their surroundings at a human scale. This ambient commons is accessible through what the book describes as atmospheres, like those we explore in our art, and not just through a mobile app or browser.

In an age of distraction engineering, you have no choice but to manage your attention more mindfully. […] A new mindfulness to context becomes no mere luxury when the world becomes augmented, and the ambient takes form.

Our world has indeed become overwhelmingly augmented, with ever more media vying for our attention. We at reelyActive have always envisaged location as a filter, which today is arguably more a necessity than a luxury. Interestingly, the proliferation of technology engineered for distraction also represents an abundant source of ambient wireless packets awaiting to be harnessed in an ambient commons. That is why we now invite you to reconnect with your here and now simply by embracing the ambient data in your space.

COVID-IoT Day

We’ve been celebrating #IoTDay since 2013, and this year is certainly the most particular, as we and our fellow global citizens all find ourselves impacted by COVID-19, declared a pandemic four weeks ago. Social distancing and stay-at-home measures mean that many people experience a sense of physical isolation, while the Internet of Things (IoT), which today we celebrate, is very much about physical connectivity.

We would have loved to welcome everyone to celebrate #IoTDay2020 in our reelyActive Parc living lab which we share with GénieLab, and that is why our initiative this year is as close to the real thing as we could get: a walkthrough of the space and its many radio-identifiable and connected “things”, augmented by a novel web application which displays their digital twins based on real-time proximity.

What’s exciting for us this year, and as you might recognise in the video, is that for the first time we can share a broadly accessible IoT experience. The reason we can do this is because of standards: there are almost certainly Bluetooth devices around you, these have digital twins (in some form) online, and you have a connection to the Internet and experience browsing the Web. We simply stitched all that together: Web meets IoT. The missing link all these years was Web Bluetooth Scanning, which allows a web browser to radio-identify the devices associated with people, products and places in proximity.

Imagine if that missing link was developed and made available almost five years ago when it was first announced (as Scanning for nearby BLE advertisements)? Imagine if the average person’s first IoT experience was simply clicking a “What’s Around Me?” button while browsing—both physically and online—a shop, allowing them to find what they’re looking for with the optimal combination of both feet and thumbs!?! Imagine if by the Web’s thirtieth birthday it had already extended to the physical fabric of our daily lives.

Imagine if the average person readily embraced the IoT as a logical extension of the Web.

We emphasise that what if? scenario because it is not difficult to imagine how a truly widespread adoption, understanding and acceptance of the IoT would greatly benefit all humanity as we collectively combat the current pandemic crisis. Consider the quote at the top of this article by Kevin Ashton, who coined the term Internet of Things in 1999, in the context of the global situation as of April 2020. Does it apply equally well to the traceability of infected patients as it does to the supply chain of personal protective equipment? It sure does.

And, fortunately, people are taking note and initiatives are taking shape. Countless independent groups have formed to tackle peer-to-peer mobile interaction detection, equipment tracking, occupancy analytics and more. We’re supporting them as broadly as we can by documenting best practices, accelerating our open source software development, sharing experiences, and of course continuing to evangelise our vision of ubiquitous machine-contextual awareness (i.e. Web + IoT) at the service of humanity.

Today, on IoT Day 2020, take the time to explain to a friend or colleague the Internet of Things in light of the current pandemic. When we emerge from this crisis, together we’ll emerge stronger, more receptive and better connected than ever, both figuratively and literally.

Location and traceability in times of pandemic

Yesterday (March 11th, 2020), the World Health Organisation’s Director General characterised COVID-19 as a pandemic. Today, in Montréal where reelyActive is based, and around the world, many find themselves directly and personally affected by measures intended to prevent the spread of the virus, including business, institution and school closures, as well as travel restrictions and self-quarantine.

In our team’s adjustment to these changes, we are prompted to recall use cases of our technology particularly applicable to the situation in which we, and countless others, find themselves, and which we’ll present in this blog post.

Working remotely but not alone

In 2014, our clients who were developing The Thing System, worked remotely from California and the UK, and devised a clever use of their technology and ours: whenever a team member was present in their home office (as detected by our tech), a light would turn on in their colleague’s home office halfway around the world (enabled by their tech). In this way, each team member was aware, through calm technology, when their colleague was “at work”, so that they could confidently initiate communication at an appropriate moment, whenever required.

Beaming in

In 2016, our clients Event Presence reached out to make their Beam mobile telepresence experience location-aware. Can’t physically attend an event or conference? They offered a means to attend remotely with the ability to move around and interact freely. As “beaming in” to an unfamiliar space can be disorienting, we worked with them to provide real-time location and context to their remote attendees. Working with the Beams, we found them incredibly useful not only for remotely attending events, but also for working remotely on the very deployments we were developing. On many occasions we even found ourselves chatting Beam-to-Beam in the venue, surely to the bewilderment of passers-by, but very much to the benefit of what we were working to achieve!

Tracing person-to-person and person-to-asset interactions

In 2019, our clients at USC deployed the first trials of DirAct, a technology we co-developed, to automatically capture person-to-person and person-to-asset interactions in an active hospital setting. Hospital staff opt-in to wear a Bluetooth Low Energy badge which detects other badges or asset tags in proximity, and which relays this information via our gateway infrastructure temporarily deployed throughout the hospital. Our colleagues at USC collect this information as part of a study to determine workplace stress factors, however it is not difficult to imagine how this same deployment could be used for traceability of interactions between staff and patients, as well as with hand-washing stations, in the context of a contagious disease such as COVID-19.

The measures currently undertaken to curb the spread of COVID-19 remind us of the pertinence of our physical location—and that of others—in our daily lives, especially as these become impeded or restricted.

In these times, it is not difficult to envisage the wide-reaching potential of real-time location technology, as evidenced by the above examples to which we’ve proudly contributed. From wherever you find yourself reading this we trust that you will stay healthy as much as innovative!