Basketball tech used to fight Covid-19 on factory floor

Wearable chips designed to track the speed and movement of elite sports stars are being deployed to the factory floor, as the world’s largest corporations look at novel ways to restart operations in the age of coronavirus.

With sports leagues suspended across the globe, the devices, which usually measure the performances of NBA and NFL players in real time, are being handed out to workers in Germany, Switzerland and the US.

Used by teams including basketball’s New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls, and football’s Paris St Germain, the sensors designed by Munich-based start-up Kinexon, which are smaller than a matchbox, measure the proximity of manufacturing staff to ensure physical distancing remains in place.

If two devices come into proximity, they emit warning signals and record how long close contact lasted.

Private sector companies across the world are racing to develop apps and other tracking tools that can monitor the movement of individual workers around offices, warehouses and factory floors. They hope to build tools that will enable businesses to get back to work quickly, while safeguarding against outbreaks within workplaces.

However, tracking employee movements has raised concerns about data privacy, while critics have questioned the accuracy of technology that fails to account for other factors, such as protective equipment.

Kinexon’s product, called SafeZone, is already being used by one of the biggest car parts makers, as well as multinational logistics companies and food suppliers. Employees can wear the sensors on their wrists or attach them to their ID cards.

The company claims that SafeZone, which uses ultra-wideband tracking technology, is 10 times more accurate than tracing tools based on bluetooth or wireless internet connections.

The technology will also allow managers to trace the movements of a worker who becomes infected with Covid-19 and alert those with whom they have been in contact, although personal data will not be held by Kinexon itself.

“We just collect the sensor ID, the distance and the timestamp, we do not know the names of the people behind the IDs,” said co-founder Oliver Trinchera, who added that the companies would be responsible for matching the anonymised data with specific employees.

Founded in 2012 by graduates of Munich’s Technical University, Kinexon, which has closed two rounds of financing, already works with some of the titans of German industry, including BMW, Audi and Continental. 

Sensors can be worn on wrists or attached to ID cards © KINEXON

Its technologies help power so-called “digital factories”, in which assets and tools can be optimised remotely to fit specific tasks and moveable goods can be tracked in real time.

However, the company’s original focus was on real-time sports data. Its sensors and software provide in-depth analytics by monitoring players’ heart rates and sweat, as well as their movements, allowing coaches to fine tune tactics as the game progresses. The devices also measure fatigue and can help prevent injuries.

Kinexon’s product has been pared down to meet the precise needs of Covid-19 prevention. “It’s a very simple, understandable product,” said Kinexon co-founder Alexander Hüttenbrink.

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