Getting Back to Work: Hand Scanners and Social Distancing Apps
New York-based consulting firm From, The Digital Transformation Agency, has developed a social distancing app that alerts employees if they’re within six feet of each other.
As states and companies begin to reopen and employees head back to work, brands are coming up with creative solutions to safety issues. Dave’s Hot Chicken has implemented a new technology called PathSpot that scans hands to make sure they’ve been washed properly.
“For us, first it’s employee safety, second it’s customer safety,” said Bill Phelps, CEO of Dave’s Hot Chicken. “We’ve continually monitored the situation, looking for best practices in the industry.”
They started implementing PathSpot in Dave’s Hot Chicken stores on April 1. The technology was created by a biomedical engineer to stop the spread of foodborne illness, launched in May 2019 and was included in Time Magazine’s best 100 inventions of 2019. The machine uses a light-based detection algorithm that scans hands for any contaminants such as bacteria or viruses. Employees put their hands under the scanner, and if it shows any traces of contamination, the employee has to go back and wash their hands again.
“We got way ahead of the curve. By the middle of March, we had everyone in stores wearing masks, getting paid $2 more per hour and doing temperature checks,” Phelps said. “At first I thought it was a little bit of an overreaction, but it turned out, everything we did was the stuff that everybody followed.”
So far, PathSpot was implemented in all three of Dave’s Hot Chicken stores, with the fourth location coming at the end of May and a fifth in July. The Los Angeles-based chicken brand started franchising in September 2019 and inked a 10-unit franchise agreement by February. Phelps said they’ll soon have 104 stores committed.
Phelps, a previous marketing executive at Nestle, co-founded Wetzel’s Pretzels with Rick Wetzel more than 25 years ago. He also helped launch Blaze Pizza with Rick and Elise Wetzel.
“This is the most craveable product I’ve ever been involved with by far,” Phelps said about Dave’s Hot Chicken. “For lots of concepts out there, the product is great for the first one to 15 minutes, but then the quality drops. Our product really holds up.”
The brand also introduced a walk-up window in its third store and plans to implement walk-up windows in all future stores as a take on the classic drive-thru model.
“It’s a benefit to our guests that don’t want to walk in, and a benefit to third-party operators and delivery people,” Phelps said. “I think this is not a fad, this is a long-term direction for people. I think you’re going to see smaller dining rooms and more drive-thrus throughout our industry going forward.”
New app reminds people to keep safe distance
New York-based consulting firm From, The Digital Transformation Agency, has developed a social distancing app that alerts employees if they’re within 6 feet of each other and reminds them to keep a safe distance. The alert sounds until the two workers return to a safe working distance.
“The idea of social distancing is challenging,” said Howard Tiersky, CEO of From, who hosted a brainstorm session with his team to come up with potential ways their company could help during COVID-19. “If we could figure out how to use tech to make transmission happen less often by developing an app that could help people while trying to social distance…” and the idea was born.
Anis Dave, senior vice president and chief technology officer at From, became the architect of the app, which is designed to work within companies ranging from offices to meat processing plants.
"Workers don't want to have to police each other or worry about a worker who doesn't take social distancing seriously," Dave said in a statement. "The social distancing app keeps everyone in check without any uncomfortable confrontations."
Most cell phones don’t have built-in proximity detectors, so the app uses an algorithm that measures the signal strength of Bluetooth in phones, then interprets that data to calculate the distance between two phones.
The app also keeps a secure, private record of any accidental close contact between people using the app. In the case of infection, business owners can then go back and access those incidents, then warn employees of their potential exposure so they can self-quarantine.
“We do believe it’s appropriate for employers to ask employees to participate in something for the safety of all,” Tiersky said. “All it records is the date, time, approximate distance and who was too close.”
The app is in the first round of beta tests with eight companies, though hundreds of companies signed up to participate. Tiersky hopes to have a product that people can download and use by some point in June, but the time frame is subject to change if they discover issues during beta testing.
“People need something quickly. What’s the leanest version of this product that will give people what they need so they can start improving safety?” Tiersky said. “Let’s not hold up this product getting out with bells and whistles.”
Because the brand wanted to focus on the software creation rather than additional hardware, the app requires users to wear their cell phones on their arms for optimal distance detection. If the app catches on, the next step for Tiersky is to reach out to Amazon and ask them to classify phone arm bands as higher priority, because the arm bands work in tandem with their app as a safety device.
“I would love nothing more than for this app to be completely unnecessary,” Tiersky said. “At a certain point we won’t have to worry about this at all. In the interim, it will be a matter of what the guidelines are.”