How 3D LiDAR May Be the Key to Ongoing Social Distancing Safety
As businesses begin reopening, one company is employing 3D LiDAR to help people practice distancing in busy public areas.
As COVID-19 wages on, businesses, health experts, and other parties discuss how to safely allow people to go back to a new kind of normal. One of the main concerns is how companies can keep people far enough apart to carry out social distancing guidelines. Some companies have wearables that emit sounds if people at worksites get too close to each other, for example.
Another solution from Quanergy utilizes 3D LiDAR to achieve distancing aims. Here's a look at what that company does and how it plans to keep people safe moving forward
How Quanergy's LiDAR Sensors Work
Quanergy's technology depends on both mechanical and solid-state light detection and ranging (LiDAR) sensors. LiDAR works by sending low-powered laser pulses out and measuring the time required for one to make a round trip between a sensor and the target. Quanergy's technology then aggregates that data and uses it to create a cloud image made of 3D points.
These points show both the object's position in space as well as depth information. Such a setup could track, identify, and classify individuals without capturing or storing any personal information or pictures of them. The point cloud gathers data about moving and static objects and does so continuously in real-time.
Quanergy LiDAR technology. Image (modified) used courtesy Quanergy
Quanergy's M-Series mechanical LiDAR sensors offer coverage up to 70 meters, plus real-time 3D perception through a 360-degree field of view (FOV). The S-Series solid-state sensors offer "pioneering" optical phased-array (OPA) technology, which boasts electronic beam steering. Quanergy says each S-Series sensor gives more than 100,000 hours before failure.
Quanergy's Flow Management Platform
The sensor technology comes together in something Quanergy calls its Flow Management Platform. The platform consists of three products working together:
- M-Series sensor with QORTEX DTC (detect, track, classify) technology
- S-Series sensor with QORTEX access control technology
- S-Series sensor with QORTEX people counter technology
Diagram of Qortex DTC. Image used courtesy of Quanergy
The Flow Management Platform depends on the LiDAR sensors to verify:
- The number of people in a given area
- The location of people
- The distance between individuals
Boosting the Flow Management Platform with Thermal Cameras
Quanergy says it achieves these measurements with high accuracy, even in dim conditions. A company could also deploy the Flow Management Platform along with supporting equipment, such as thermal cameras. Some areas already use such cameras in highly-trafficked areas like parks. Some models correctly detect human temperature to within less than one degree Fahrenheit.
In a Stanley Security article on human temperature detection, the author explains that thermal cameras cannot tell if someone has COVID-19. Neither can the Flow Management Platform. However, a multifaceted system could go a long way in keeping people safer. For example, a user can set up the Flow Management Platform to alert building personnel when people are too close together, or they exceed the occupancy limit for a room.
Thermal camera image. Image used courtesy of Stanley Security
Then, a supporting thermal camera system could make it easier for staff members to determine the location of people who may have fevers. Having that kind of visibility is crucial in heavily trafficked areas like train stations or event venues.
A Quanergy press release about how its technology aligns with social distancing needs proposed several scenarios where the system would let people go about their business without sacrificing safety. For example, since the LiDAR counts people, it could keep a businesses' occupancy numbers low with a contactless approach.
Current methods of traffic control include turnstiles and soft and hard barriers, like ropes or temporary fencing. However, all those things could become unsanitary, especially as people unintentionally lean or get pushed against them while waiting. Tracking people with LiDAR gives building representatives an accurate number without using products that could help spread the virus.
It's also worth noting that LiDAR continues to function as expected in rainy, snowy, or foggy conditions, unlike a video camera. Many organizations, including those overseeing athletic events, are looking into how to hold sports matches without putting people at risk. Most decide to host their games in empty stadiums or delay the events until the public can safely come to watch the players again.
Quanergy is now expanding its Flow Management Platform to support social distancing. Image used courtesy of Quanergy
Once sports venues open to fans, restrictions will likely be in place to stop the premises from getting overcrowded. Quanergy's solution could help with that in a way that's wholly non-disruptive to ticketholders. Knowing the number of people in various locations also helps managers know when and where to send cleaning personnel to keep areas thoroughly sanitized.
Tech Companies Reroute Efforts to COVID-19
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Quanergy primarily used its LiDAR technology for autonomous cars. Such work will undoubtedly continue. But it's fascinating to see companies pivoting to show potential customers how their offerings can meet new needs.
While navigating this new normal as an electrical engineer, product designer, or someone interested in social-distancing technology, expect to see more examples of companies showing how their products can help.