Technology in Covid-19 prevention in industry

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COVID-19 is a disease caused by the New Coronavirus, called SARS-CoV-2, which can cause milder symptoms, similar to those of common flu, to more severe symptoms, which can result in the death of the infected individual. The main form of transmission of this disease is between people, through droplets of saliva and secretions that contain the virus, but it can also occur through contact with surfaces contaminated by the droplets.

Given the form of contagion, the most prudent attitude is social isolation. However, this strategy is not a possible measure for everyone, since, often, for industries to work fully, it is impossible for all employees to perform their work from home. Thus, while some can work from home, in social isolation, others need to work in person, exposing themselves to the risks of contamination.

Thus, even for people who continue to work normally during the pandemic, it is essential to adopt three main preventive measures: access control, work environment disinfection, and social distancing. These three measures can be benefited and facilitated by the use of some technological resources.

Access control

Access control means limiting or denying access to the industrial work environment in cases of workers who have any symptoms of COVID-19 or are not wearing facemasks. Currently, the only symptom that can be tested electronically is body temperature — which, to prevent the spread of the disease, must be done without contact.

Two technologies are used for temperature verification without physical contact: infrared thermometers and thermal imaging cameras. Both technologies measure the infrared radiation emitted by the body, which is proportional to its temperature.

In the case of the thermometer, the measurement is made at a specific point in the body. In the camera, the measurement is made at several points, forming an image, with the heat map of the measured area. According to ISO/TR 13154: 2017  — a standard that provides guidelines for contactless body temperature measurement and that regulates the use of electrical medical equipment —  the measurement can be done in the larger areas of the head, usually on the forehead. An elevated body temperature (greater than 37°Celsius) may indicate the person has a fever, one of the symptoms of COVID-19.

Facemask checking, in turn, can be automated using machine-learning image recognition, in which an algorithm learns to recognize patterns over time. The implementation of this type of solution can be done with popular frameworks-ready software functions — such as OpenCV with TensorFlow.  This requires initial training of the recognition algorithms for the correct detection and there are already open ready-made data sets for this task.

These two access control methods can be combined into a single system, with an infrared temperature sensor or thermal camera and a common camera for facemask recognition. Equipment with these functions already exist and is being tested in some industrial environments for access control on the entrance turnstiles with daily measurements of all employees.

Disinfection of the working environment

Industrial area cleaning before the pandemic was limited to keeping the environment clean. Chemical disinfection with recommended cleaners (disinfectants) is expensive and time-consuming, as it requires more employees allocated daily to the function. Added to this, we need to disinfect items that arrive for stock, such as raw materials.

Autonomous cleaning robots are already being developed, tested and used in these cases. A robot can cover an industrial area daily, at more favorable times, such as in the evening period. They are already commonly used in cleaning and disinfection factory floors, since the paths through which robots must pass are predefined and do not have variations. Storage locations or that have too many machines, in turn, are a problem, since they do not offer space for the passage of robots or are too high to be reached.

Another alternative that is being tested is the use of ultraviolet light, which, due to its ionizing action, can cause damage to the genetic material of the virus and disable it. Because of the danger of eye and skin contact with these radiation sources, ultraviolet light should be applied without human intervention. There are already cases where autonomous robots use this light and apply disinfection during shifts where no people are present[link 6].

Social distancing

Even after access control has been applied and the disinfection has been performed, it is still necessary for employees to maintain the distance of one meter, as recommended by the WHO. To tackle this problem, there are several auxiliary technologies for distancing measuring and to warn when distancing is compromised.

Among these technologies, the one that has stood out is the UWB (Ulta Wide Band), in which devices — tag or bracelet — emit radio signals in a large frequency range to other devices . By measuring the time between messages, it is possible to determine the distances between employees and issue sound and light alerts to move away if they approach too closely.

This technology allows an accuracy of 10 cm, better than solutions with Bluetooth, which suffer from inaccuracy problems indoors — Bluetooth signal is attenuated by walls, equipment and obstacles. Anatel (the Brazilian Telecommunication Nacional Agency) has already regulated the working frequency ranges for the use of this new technology in Brazil in Resolution of June 27 2017, number 680.

Conclusion

Even with the great challenge of the pandemic, several lines of research and product development are being explored so that industry continues to function and ensuring the safety of its workers. Access control with facemask recognition and body temperature measurement help prevent the spread of the disease before it can enter factories. Automated robot disinfection ensures that employees have a safe environment to work in. Finally, measuring the distance between employees can control the spread of the virus in assembly lines, inventories and other areas of companies.

These solutions are direct responses to the new needs brought by the pandemic of the New Coronavirus. Thus, with the use of these technologies, it is possible to create safer environments for employees who need to work in outside of their homes. Virus contamination can be contained and activities can be safely resumed.

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