Enabling a Location Aware Space

By Steve Cromie, Enterprise Architect

During the COVID-19 pandemic it has become clear that businesses, schools, and other public venues are looking for ways to open to the public while at the same time keeping employees, students, and customers safe. Having the ability to maintain distancing guidelines by managing entry into a facility or monitoring the environment to determine where people are gathering is key to keeping people safe. Public health experts agree that contact tracing is also critical when we re-open our schools and businesses. In this blog, I will highlight some technology solutions that can help with maintaining a safe environment whether it is returning to work, school, or hopefully to a rock concert at a public venue someday.

I am going to present technologies that enable us to provide protection and instill confidence in all of us as we slowly try to get back to the spaces we need for work, school, and play.  I will be discussing the following three topics:

  • Location Aware Spaces
  • Contact Tracing
  • Touchless Visitor/Employee Registrations

Location Aware Spaces

What do we mean by a “Location Aware Space”? In general, we are talking about an office space or school campus that can leverage new or existing infrastructure and technology to be aware of the location of people in a specific area or space. Networks can be used as a sensor and can provide visibility into where people are located and how they are moving within the space. There are several technologies that can be used to create a location aware space.

  • Wi-Fi
    • Location services using the existing Wi-Fi infrastructure can provide some location information based how close a user’s device (like phones or computers) are to an access point. This does not necessarily require the device be connected to the Wi-Fi. Many Wi-Fi vendors already provide location analytics in their management dashboards, and these analytics can most often be enabled with no additional infrastructure.
  • Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)
    • BLE provides the most accurate location services. BLE can track location by tracking mobile phones and other devices (ID badges, wearables, beacons, etc.). There are a myriad of options available from manufacturers today that support BLE. Because BLE is low energy, we have more accurate data about the persons location because the person needs to be closer to each sensor to be detected. However, by its very nature, implementing BLE does require more dense deployments of infrastructure. The good news is that BLE sensors are low cost, so investing in BLE solutions does not carry a huge price tag.
  • Location Analytics

Dedicated location analytics services (often cloud based) can provide in-depth analytics and locations of people as they enter, move around, and leave spaces. It can also track and record when people move between spaces. Location analytics leverages the data from location services like Wi-Fi and BLE to provide meaningful data about people’s movements within the monitored spaces.  Perform a search online for Location Analytics Services and you will have pages of results to sift through. Investing in a Location Analytics Service is critical to enabling a robust Location Aware Space.

Contact Tracing

Contact tracing, as performed by public health officials, is generally a four-step process.

  1. Initial notification of Person Under Investigation (PUI).
  2. Interview PUI to, among other things, understand where they have been and who they have been in contact with.
  3. Locate and notify contacts who may have been exposed.
  4. Monitor contacts.

Imagine having to remember exactly where you were or who you were in contact with for every hour for the past week. With location aware spaces, technology can be used to help with step two of contact tracing – understanding where someone has been and who they have been in contact with.  Data from location aware spaces can be provided to public health investigators to ensure accurate contact tracing can be performed. The technologies that can be used to help facilitate contact tracing are:

  • Wi-Fi
    • Data can be based on the current Wi-Fi infrastructure and does not require any apps or wearables. It is either already deployed, or can easily be deployed, but as we learned above, is not as precise as BLE.
  • Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)
    • BLE usually requires additional infrastructure and can include apps or wearables and can provide peer-to-peer location for more precise location information.
  • Cameras
    • Either security cameras, facial recognition systems, IR sensors or proximity cameras can be leveraged to help provide accurate location and contact tracing and temperature information. Some Dasher clients are using IR based cameras to passively check the temperature of each employee as they enter a facility.  If the employee has an elevated temperature, they can be asked to return home and isolate themselves prior to entering the facility.

Touchless Registrations

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of companies already leveraged visitor kiosks at their reception desk for visitors to sign in to before accessing the facility. Since the visitor is providing their credentials, the company has a record of who has entered the building. Now instead of having a physical kiosk for visitors only, companies can leverage different solutions, like a mobile app or web browser on a mobile device, to register visitors and employees before they enter a building

It seems the exception these days that a lobby in Silicon Valley does not have that nice Envoy-enabled iPad waiting for me to sign in on.  As a matter of fact, if you only take away one thing from this blog, it is that you should go download the cool Envoy app so that when you show up in an Envoy-enabled lobby in the future, you can sign in from your phone!  Envoy has even added a new feature for an employee to reserve a desk prior to coming to the office which requires the user to answer a few questions about their health status.

Applications like Envoy enable several methods to help keep safety protocols in place.

  1. Controls access to the building so the number of people in the building will not exceed what is appropriate to keep distancing to a safe level.
  2. Keep track of who is in the building – in case contact tracing may be required.
  3. Enable pre-registration of desks and pre-visit wellness checks.
  4. Touchless sign in.

Additionally, touchless registration can provide visitors with Wi-Fi credentials though integration with leading Network Access Control solutions like Aruba ClearPass (check out our blog on NAC here). If the Wi-Fi network is leveraging location services, the visitor’s location can be tracked within the building in case of emergency or to facilitate contact tracing.

If you would like the technical details on any of these subjects discussed here, would like advice or assistance on how to design and implement a location aware system for your company, or would just like to geek out more, feel free to reach out via our Contact Us page.





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