A startup that helps large corporations keep their industrial workers safe through the use of smart devices is turning its attention towards the coronavirus.
It's a move that could serve as a preview for how organizations will look to leverage big data for a return to work.
Unlike white-collar jobs, which have the luxury of working remotely, industrial workers need to be on-premise to work for the most part. As a result, coronavirus outbreaks have plagued warehouses such as Amazon, Boeing, and JBS Colorado beef plant.
StrongArm Technologies' traditional business is focused on protecting industrial workers via the analysis of data collected through smart devices worn by employees. Algorithms allow the platform to use the data to understand what leads to work-place injuries and how to help employees avoid them in the future.
The startup is leveraging those techniques to help companies establish social-distancing standards and perform contract tracing for their industrial employees, Sean Petterson, CEO and founder of StrongArm Technologies, told Business Insider.
"When this COVID situation hit, what we're trying to do is just see how we can be useful," said Petterson, who estimated many of the warehouses and distribution centers that use StrongArm are seeing as much as a 10-fold increase in volume.
"We could just use our technology to help augment what the [environmental, health, and safety] professionals are having trouble maintaining just because there's so much volume. There's so much chaos, and there's so many more responsibilities," he added.
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StrongArm, whose clientele includes Walmart, Toyota and French transportation and logistics giant Geodis, has worked out of the New Lab's facilities in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a hub for hundreds of investors to share millions of dollars worth of resources while working on new projects.
Petterson said a prototype was already developed earlier this month with plans for a wider rollout targeted for June 1.
One such feature is focused on social distancing. The user's device will ping as they get closer to another employee wearing a device before a larger alert is administered when they are within six feet of each other.
A step further would be leveraging the tech for contract tracing — understanding which employees were exposed to an employee who tested positive.
Thanks to its background tracking employee movements and categorizing it appropriately, Petterson said StrongArm is in a great position to help companies with those efforts as well.
"The thing about the way our platform has been built is that we learn about every incident, every day. And the only reason we can do that is we spent a long time building what's called a time-series database," he added. "So we're collecting that information, all those different inputs at a rate of 12.5-times a second, and then we're cataloging that in the cloud."
The use case goes even beyond just contract tracing, Petterson said, as that data can also be used to better understand how employees are interacting with each other. Being able to see where major hotspots or congestion points are will go a long way in helping companies reevaluate how they're structured.
StrongArm's efforts are an example of the potential benefits smart devices — also known as the Internet of Things or IoT — can have when it comes to companies trying to understand how to safely return to work.
To be sure, not everyone is as comfortable with having their movements tracked, regardless of the benefits it might pose.
To that point, StrongArm has a pledge on its website stating usage of its platform to "punish or unduly monitor" employees or using data for "punitive measures" is forbidden and grounds for contract termination.
Coronavirus aside, Petterson said conversations around understanding how industrial workers are interacting are long overdue for companies. The rise of ecommerce has led to an influx of volume that has forced the entire supply chain to be "turned on its head."
"Organizations are recognizing that you need to care for these people," he added. "We're seeing a great deal of more interest in protecting these individuals."