Detroit’s General Motors Co. has developed new technology to aid workplace safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. The company says it is sharing its innovations with the public for potential use in job sites including manufacturing plants, offices, schools, and more.
The technologies include an automated kiosk for temperature scanning, software for contact tracing, and a mobile app for touchless printing.
“We developed an extensive playbook for a safe return to work for our employees, and we’re seeing very good success,” says Dr. Jeffery Hess, medical director for GM. “As we implemented the protocols, GM software developers started to work on how technology could make the process smoother and more precise.”
The company’s in-house software developers created solutions aimed at helping employees return to work with more confidence, streamlining and improving workplace safety protocols.
“We had to respond quickly to the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic created for our workforce,” says Randy Mott, executive vice president and chief information officer at GM. “Our teams collaborated online with experts around the world to quickly innovate and support the safe return of our employees to the workplace. We know many of these challenges affect others globally. We felt it important to share our innovation so other companies, organizations, and institutions could benefit from our experience.”
The thermal scanning kiosk integrates the operation of an infrared thermal camera with a computer and monitor, automating the process of temperature checks upon entrance, which are traditionally completed by another employee.
The system automatically detects when someone has stepped in front of the camera and checks for an elevated skin temperature. It then indicates on the monitor whether it is safe to proceed, or the entrant needs further evaluation. The process takes a couple of seconds, preventing bottlenecks at workplace entry points and reducing physical contact between workers. The scan also is effective when workers wear masks or face coverings.
The kiosks are in use at GM offices and plants across the U.S. and are slated to expand to other global locations. The kiosks GM built are for its own facilities, but the software could be used in scanning processes for other organizations.
GM has enhanced its contact tracing solution by making improvements to Covid Watch, an open-source contact tracing application, by adding real-time social distance alerts, boosting performance on devices, and adding support for Bluetooth beacons. GM will release its open-source software soon, helping developers who are collaborating on open-source solutions to aid contact tracing.
“We believe our application advances the state of the art when it comes to mobile apps for contact tracing, which is the subject of massive software development efforts across multiple industries today,” says Tony Bolton, chief information officer of global telecommunications and end-user services at GM.
GM is testing a mobile app that would create a record for the employee, listing other users with whom he or she has been in contact. It can help medical staff reach employees that had contact with a worker who has since tested positive for COVID-19 while maintaining privacy and security. The app also constantly computes the physical distance between users and can send an alert to help encourage safe behavior. GM is planning a pilot to test the app soon.
The company’s new touchless print mobile web app enables employees to print documents without touching the printer’s control panel, instead using a QR code scanned through the employees’ phones.
“Touchless printing is a first step, as the team is also working on using technology to make other daily activities more hands-free,” Bolton said.
The app is in use at GM facilities worldwide and is exclusive to HP printers. The software was released earlier this month.
GM has also produced ventilators and personal protective equipment in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
GM’s new COVID-19 safety software offerings are available for software developers’ use on its GitHub page.
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