A Brooklyn Company Shifts Its Focus to Social Distancing and Contact Tracing

May 13, 2020
Cansu Yegin handing out FUSE sensors to workers at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Credit: Brittainy Newman/The New York Times

As dozens of workers reported to the New Lab building at the Brooklyn Navy Yard early this week, many chose to be outfitted with a device that, its creators hope, can be among the tools that help lift the economy.

The cellphone-size gadget, known as a FUSE Sensor, is worn around the chest via a fabric harness. It was invented by StrongArm Technologies, which is based at the Navy Yard, to help warehouse workers avoid injury by alerting them with buzzing sounds and flashing lights about possible hazards.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the company modified the device to help contain the virus’s spread in two ways.

First, when two people wearing sensors come closer than six feet from each other, the strobe lights flash, effectively enforcing social distancing.

The device was also rejiggered to track those with whom a wearer comes into contact on the job, the kind of information that is critical in tracing whom a sick person may have exposed to the virus.

“It’s a noninvasive way to keep you safe,” Sean Petterson, StrongArm’s chief executive, said.

The workers who opted to try the sensors on Tuesday visited a table filled with rows of the black devices mounted in charging stations. StrongArm workers in face masks handed out sensors, harnesses and fitting instructions.

Vlad Preoteasa, New Lab’s director of information technology, was among those who strapped on a sensor. He said that although he did not consider it a “security blanket,” he was eager to take part in a program that might benefit others.

The sensors can track not just whom a wearer came into contact with, but how close they came and for how long, as well as being able to pinpoint parts of a building that required a deep cleaning, said Shaun Stewart, New Lab’s chief executive.

Those who have been exposed are told privately by email, and an online dashboard that is widely viewable displays instances of exposure, anonymously.

Workers return the sensors when their shifts end.

“Our goal isn’t to know where you take your lunch break,” said Matt Norcia, StrongArm’s chief operating officer. “It’s to ensure that between the front door and the back door, you remain safe.”

Source: NYT