Surveillance Tech That Uses AI To Track Social Distancing And Mask Wearing In Workplace Raises Serious Concerns

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By Mayukh Saha / Truth Theory

Workplaces are eager to avoid the spread of the coronavirus and are equipping their security cameras with AI software that can track their worker’s compliance with health guidelines, which includes wearing a mask or social distancing.

The software is deemed to be quite crucial, while COVID-19 is on a rampage all around the world. The surveillance technology allows the company to showcase how they are monitoring their workers and enforcing the mandates.

“You already are hearing about things like ‘Waze for occupancy and people movement,’ as opposed to vehicle movements—not just self-reporting, but automated reporting on traffic information of people in different indoor locations and public areas,” says Mahesh Saptharishi, the CTO of Motorola Solutions, which is developing a system of this kind. “I think that’s just going to be more common until people feel safe enough.” He added that things like fever detection could be useful for the masses but people also need to practice social distancing and wearing masks often.

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Motorola’s Avigilon subsidiary, for example, is developing software for its latest-generation security cameras that will detect when people are standing too close or not wearing masks. Take a look at the video showing this tech in action here. The company hopes to start implementing this by the end of June, for the factories and offices and believes that such tech can be beneficial for the retail stores and supermarkets.

“The last thing we want is for the governor to shut all our projects down because no one is behaving,” said Jen Suerth, vice president at Chicago-based Pepper Construction, which introduced software from this month to detect workers grouping at an Oracle Corp project in Deerfield, Illinois.


Samarth Diamond intends to deploy the intelligence from Glimpse Analytics as soon as their polishing factory reopens in Gujarat, India. Two shopping centers based in Michigan, owned by RPT Realty, will initiate distance tracking from RE Insight in just 2 weeks.

Buyers are expecting the tech to work as they believe that similar tools were previously used to profile the shoppers entering their stores and find helmet scofflaws on construction sites.

Some tech consultants have advised their clients that they should not implement this AI technology and should invest in tools that would be required for a few months. Privacy activists are concerned with the increase of tracking people and are urging businesses to limit the use of Artificial Intelligence.

The Ethical Questions Asked About The AI

“The question becomes whether the tech remains after the public health problem goes away, and that is the real privacy fear,” said Al Gidari, a privacy expert at Stanford Law School. “Video in the store today to ensure social distancing remains to identify shoplifters tomorrow.”

According to a survey it was found out that several customers were of the opinion that such security cameras were cheaper than having people who would stand guard to check the practices.

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Pepper Construction’s Suerth said its SmartVid system has not flagged crowding issues yet because staffing has been limited. But Suerth said that as more crews arrive, the company will look at trends to issue reminders at “toolbox talks.”

“It’s another set of eyes on the site,” Suerth said, adding that software is less prone to mistakes than people and the “accuracy we’re seeing is really high.”

Parth Patel Discusses His Ideas About The Software

Parth Patel, who is the manager of Samarth Diamond, stated that he could adjust the procedures when the AI software would identify spots where his 4,000 workers were clumping in busy areas. People who were tagged as not wearing their masks would be offered one by a review team.


“It will surely be helpful for the safety of employees and their comfort level, and it will be helpful to show it to authorities that we are adhering” to regulations, Patel said.

The calculations if people are really 6 feet away from one another and detecting face masks are all being tested now and are being launched on accelerated schedules. Some startups have even promised to spot coughing and sneezing.

“Most solutions will be in uncharted territory, without a proven track record, and likely susceptible to false positives and bugs,” said Vinay Goel, a former Google Maps product leader who is now chief digital products officer at the tech unit of real estate services giant Jones Lang LaSalle Inc. 

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