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.

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.

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!