How bats could help with social distancing as lockdown lifts

A new “bat-like” sensor could help people to keep out of social distance by simplifying locking measures.

Developed by a Scottish start-up company, the technology uses echolocation instead of light to receive images.

Echolocation is the way bats use sound to identify their environment.

Creator Alex Bowen said it could be used to count how many people are in an office and how far apart they are to aid in social distance and infection control.

Bowen said, “As with many problems, nature had the solution. In the wild, bats send a screech and listen to the echoes to understand distances and the location of physical objects.

“In this way, the bat can interpret its environment. Our sensors work in a similar way using echolocation to create an image without identifying data to protect privacy.”

While the sensor first focused on domestic applications, it is hoped that the sensor can help make social distance easier in office buildings and other areas while ensuring privacy.

Bowen believes it can also be “game-changing” in assisted living and for people with dementia, allowing their movements to be monitored and any deterioration to be picked up more quickly.

He said, “For assisted living, this can change the game for people with dementia and others with assisted living needs, allowing them to monitor their movements and pick up any deterioration more quickly.

“All AIs must constantly learn and adapt to understand the world like us.

Alex Bowen's sensor to help with social distance

“But the industry still faces the challenge of teaching AI what happens in people’s homes without violating user privacy through human surveillance or camera use.

“The virtual AI assistants already on the market are manually activated by voice, but our technology allows the AI ​​to be more intuitive by understanding how the user moves.

“For example, if you follow a recipe and the virtual assistant reads the instructions, he can ‘see’ when you’re ready for the next ingredient, instead of waiting for the next instruction.”

Bowen, a graduate of Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, founded his company IMERAI in 2018, which is located in the city’s Business School Incubator.

They used MEMS microphones – already widely used in cell phones and smart home assistants – for the sensor, which could now provide a foundation for more advanced AI products.


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