Jaz Banga, CEO, Airspace
For many, fall means sporting events, tailgating and going to the mall to get a jumpstart on holiday shopping — and that means crowds. In various parts of the country, some of these pastimes are returning, or are under consideration. This leaves many Americans considering a question that has become all too common: Is it safe? For the operators of venues and facilities, answering that question has become a singular focus. It could be the key to their very survival as the Covid-19 pandemic continues.
In a recent McKinsey & Company survey conducted in the U.S. from July 30 through Aug. 2, 73% of respondents said “they are not engaging in a ‘normal’ level of out-of-home activity” (up from 70% in mid-July). Having worked with the San Francisco Fleet Week Association, as well as Major League Baseball, I’ve seen firsthand the challenges faced by organizations that operate outdoor public venues. I believe these organizations must take proactive measures and go beyond what officials are recommending and what industry leaders are doing if they’re going to help people feel more comfortable with out-of-home activities again.
Bold, Decisive Action
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines state that the highest risk events are “large in-person gatherings where it is difficult for individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and attendees travel from outside the local area.” As the pandemic continues, and many theme parks and professional sports have reopened, we’ve reached the point where, to ensure that the public’s safety is prioritized, we must take bold, decisive action.
I think venues with the most potential to be in use in the coming months, such as outdoor concert stages, are ideal candidates for including such measures as thermal scanning and anonymized mask detection. This can be done with the use of mounted, AI-enabled cameras to ensure that citizens’ privacy is maintained. Over the past five years, my company has been focused on developing machine learning-based algorithms that can identify unauthorized drones in restricted areas. We’ve seen how such AI-enabled computer vision can have a very high level of success in identifying visual anomalies, and thermal scanning is an excellent way to identify literal “hot spots” that develop when crowds of people gather too close together. In fact, we are among a number of companies that have been working on technology to detect whether people are wearing masks and social distancing.
Thermal scanning and anonymized mask detection differ from the oft-cited facial recognition tools by using edge computing. With edge computing, data is not transferred back to a central cloud server. That means that only the information that organizations are looking for — such as the usage of masks — is collected, and other data isn’t captured. As a result, no personal identification is recorded, saved or passed along to a data center or the cloud, which makes these technologies ideal for the public spaces and areas where large crowds tend to congregate.
In the case of thermal scanning, think of how mapping is used in basketball to show where players take their shots. With thermal scanning, we can identify where groups of people are congregating too close together in certain areas of a venue.
After collecting the information, the next step is where, if not handled properly, confrontations could arise. Rather than a heavy-handed approach, it might be best for a venue to have medical staff, as opposed to law enforcement, engage with patrons and offer them a mask, or help with proper usage, rather than to threaten expulsion from the venue.
Don’t Follow — Lead
Undoubtedly, many businesses will be looking to industry leaders to see how they handle the situation and what best practices they are using to reopen. The Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando opened its gates on July 11 with reduced capacity, a face mask requirement and plans for social distancing. While these are good standard practices, there seems to be room for additional measures to be implemented. It should be noted that Hong Kong Disneyland closed once again amid Covid-19 concerns.
I think executives should be looking at tools beyond masks, hand sanitizer and social distancing and adding additional layers of security and safety measures. The overall effect not only would be cumulative, but it also would communicate to the public that you are actively taking measures to provide a safe experience. Gaining public trust will be one of the first steps of any economic recovery.
Technology Could Help Flatten The Curve
The path to normalcy will genuinely begin only when we can start to once again wrestle the number of new cases into a downward trajectory. I believe that using AI-enabled technology to assist with mask adherence policies would be a welcome addition to the current arsenal of tactics in use.
What are your thoughts on the matter? I welcome your input.
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