There’s nothing like a global health crisis to help the tech dream of business control freaks to rein in suspicious masses. A GCHQ-backed firm now offers vibrating wristbands for warehouse owners as a Covid social-distancing tool.
Just two years ago Amazon’s patents for vibrating wristbands, which would track every worker and out those who slack, sent chills down people’s spines, with visions of a dystopian future. Now, a similar device exists, in the plastic-and-electronic flesh – and is marketed as a tool to “accelerate the transition back to safe working across a range of industries” after the Covid-19 pandemic.
Manufactured by Tended, a company based in Lincoln, England, the wristbands had a relatively quiet rollout in May. Sensors in the devices use ultra-wideband technology for proximity detection that doesn’t interfere with regular radio communications.
In theory, workers in construction, logistics and similar industries will be wearing the bracelets to help them keep the prescribed distance of two meters (or whatever their management sets the alert to). All the data will be meticulously logged and analyzed – because if someone gets the virus, all his workplace contacts need to be identified and isolated.
Sounds really good and benign. And so sellable, too: big corporations across the world lose millions each day because they “had to stop running and send their workers home because they can’t effectively enforce safe distancing measures,” Tended CEO Leo Scott Smith explained to local news site Lincolnite.
Smith, whose profile was featured on the site as being among the city’s rising stars under 30, has received £1.4 million ($1.76 million) of private investment and “pushed boundaries with life-saving technology” inspired by his experience working for a charity in Nepal. His wristband project apparently also impressed the spooks at GCHQ, Britain’s signals intelligence agency.
In January the agency selected Tended among eleven firms in Greater Manchester for “technical mentoring” given by GCHQ during the 16-week accelerator program proved invaluable for the startup, Smith told Manchester Evening News this week. The company managed to develop the product in just eight weeks and has received 200 enquiries in two weeks since the launch.
The pandemic was apparently a godsend for Tended, as it sent the potential demand for its wristbands sky-high. They initially wanted to offer their surveillance technology to alert staff at warehouses when large vehicles were nearby. With all the research for the sensors already done, it didn’t take long to come up with a relevant packaging.
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