Social distancing touches many sectors

Posted on: 15/05/2020
At KTN many sectors our experts operate in are playing a part in facilitating social distancing.

Until this year, the term ‘social distancing’ wasn’t familiar parlance. Introduced in many countries as a response to slow the spread of Covid-19, it’s an action that has forced millions of us in this country and billions worldwide to change their lifestyles and the way they might think about life for a while to come.


At KTN, social distancing impacts on our work, not for the obvious reasons, but because the many sectors our experts operate in are playing a part in facilitating social distancing. From the challenge of safely ferrying technicians to offshore wind farm sites, to digital technology that counts passengers, drones for no touch delivery to the adoption of new med-tech, the areas where innovation is needed are numerous.


Initiatives in the transport sector

How do an increasing number of people get to work safely?  It’s clear from the tragic loss of life amongst TfL workers for example that social distancing in the transport sector is a fundamental challenge. KTN is working with companies such as Zeelo to help them find local authorities to partner with so their technology that caps the number of riders through a booking site and app for safe commuter bus transport can be quickly adopted.

KTN, in partnership with the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, offshore wind health and safety group G+ and Workboat Association, has launched a competition on the KTN-iX platform to identify innovative solutions to the challenge of safely increasing limited capacity of workboats used to take technicians to offshore windfarm sites. Social distancing is forcing some operators to limit offshore crew transfer vessel operations to a maximum of four passengers, a considerable reduction from the usual 12 or 24. This impacts the amount of work that can be undertaken on a wind farm, affecting jobs and ultimately energy production.


Earlier this year Block Dox Ltd was invited to exhibit its TRAFFIC (TRAin Footfall From Intelligent Counters) technology at KTN’s Rail Innovation Expo. TRAFFIC continuously monitors how people use trains and the resulting data can be used to accurately assess and predict passenger flows, provide more space on trains and enable staff to dynamically and proactively manage crowding situations. This original objective was to deploy TRAFFIC to make journeys better, but the technology has obvious potential to help train operators introduce safe social distancing.


Transport has a huge part to play in helping us to come out of lockdown and technology and innovation has a huge part to play not just in making traditional forms of transport safer but in bringing new technology to bear on the challenges.


Mathematical modelling and safer working practices

Under the badge of V-KEMSKTNIsaac Newton Institute and the International Centre for Mathematical Sciences have developed a programme of activity to support business and government in recent weeks; including modelling decontamination, and supply chain resilience. A direct request from government led us to set up a two-day virtual workshop to explore mathematical principles which could help government departments rationalise guiding principles to unlocking the workforce. The group of over 50 mathematical scientists, psychologists and public health experts focused on different types of workplace, applying simple mathematical ideas to issues around minimising interactions between people in such a way that a return to normality can be made as quickly as possible. The resulting paper can be found here.


Digital health

KTN has teams working in HealthAI and Digital and all have witnessed a change in behaviour enforced by the social distancing rules. People and institutions have been quick to adopt new techniques and associated protocols. At the time of writing the new Covid-19 contract tracing app has been introduced in the Isle of Wight but has yet to be tested in the wider UK. In the US the SmartDome is being deployed by essential retailers; similar to a security camera, it watches customers and sends out messages if they are disobeying the rules of social distancing, such as ‘for your safety, please maintain at least six feet of social distance’. And we’re all using more familiar digital tools like contactless payment with renewed enthusiasm.


AI and Robotics

According to Dr. Caroline Chibelushi, KTN’s Knowledge Transfer Manager for AI: “Embedded systems such as AI-driven robots have a big role to play in outbreaks such as Covid-19. Chinese state media has reported that drones and robots are being used by the government to cut the risk of person-to-person transmission of the disease. These drones and robots remotely disinfected hospitals, delivered food and enforced quarantine restrictions as part of the effort to fight Covid-19. A company from Denmark is also selling a robot that can disinfect indoor spaces.”

Read the full article here.


The role of technology to supplement or even replace human activity has been crucial in this pandemic – if AI and Robotics can be used to undertake a task that would currently prove dangerous to a human being, if these technologies can enforce or enable social distancing, it is surely a positive thing.


Other sectors

Social distancing practicalities and implications are impacting many other sectors our teams work in. What is the optimum material for a face covering?  Can you maximise robotics in manufacturing to allow workers more space or in agriculture to maintain the safety of farm workers?  Can urban planners factor in social distancing to new city designs?  Can designers build it into construction plans?


Social distancing looks set to be part of not just our vocabulary, but our everyday way of life, for some time yet. Innovation is playing its part in enabling every sector to make increasing sophisticated interventions.  But the importance of a joined-up approach is clear: the most sophisticated mathematical modelling applied to a workplace will be useless if the public transport people use to get to work isn’t operating any social distancing.

Get in touch with KTN

If you think you have solutions, resources or other ideas which can help tackle some of the effects of Covid-19, or need connecting with a specific sector, please get in touch with KTN and we will direct you to the teams working on solving some of these challenges. Email

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