How to Use Event Technology for Social Distancing and Contact Tracing

Wearable Bluetooth devices could help attendees keep their distance at in-person meetings.

After a months-long hiatus, the live events industry is readying for recovery. Small, in-person meetings are already happening at hotels across the country, and large convention centers are working to becoming certified in coronavirus cleaning and prevention.

But even if venues uphold the highest sanitation standards, how can organizers ensure that attendees are following social-distancing restrictions? Technology might be the answer.

Phone apps and wearable devices that use Bluetooth technology to enforce social distancing, track Covid-19 symptoms and alert anyone who may have been exposed to the virus can be used at in-person events to ensure the highest levels of safety. 

Northstar Meetings Group recently incorporated such devices at Reconvening for Recovery: Live, which was held Oct. 13-14 at the Mohegan Sun in Mystic Country, Conn. The hybrid event was attended in-person by 75 meeting professionals, along with 1,000 remote participants. In-person guests were able to use social-distancing wristbands provided by PC Nametag, which would buzz whenever a wearer came within six fit of another person with a wristband.

A handful of other technology companies have developed similar products designed to enforce social distancing and enable contact tracing at live events, offices and even nursing homesSports stadiums are also looking to roll out wearable tracking devices that could help fill stadium seats, while ensuring guests maintain a safe distance.

"The need to maintain social distancing is critical to reducing transmission of Covid-19," said Campbell Macdonald, CEO of the safety technology company Proxxi. In April the company launched Contact, a wearable wristband that vibrates when it comes within six feet of another band. In addition, the wristbands can be used for contact tracing, as they are designed to keep records of all interactions, including which other bands they came near, when and how many times. 

The bands, which are priced at $100 each, were originally designed for use among industrial companies. "Our existing customers in construction, manufacturing and utilities have essential workers in the field and requested this product," said Macdonald. But he noted that the bands have a broader application as the need for social distancing cuts across most industries.

Accent Systems, which specializes in Internet of Things technology, has developed a similar contact-tracing solution for use in offices, senior-living residences, health-care centers, gyms, large events and more.

"[Covid-19] is a global affair that not only threatens our health, but also our economy," says an Accent Systems video about the device. "Efforts to contain contagion are major and Bluetooth technology has emerged as a one of the most effective solutions."

The Accent Systems contact-tracing wristband can detect other devices and send a social-distancing alert when someone comes within six feet of another band. It also registers encrypted contact-tracing data. If someone wearing the band tests positive, the system will notify anyone who came into near the infected person and advise them to quarantine.

The wristbands have a battery life of five days and are, according to the company, already being used by some governments in the Middle East.

Another company that has created contact-tracking wearables is Estimote. The San Francisco-based start-up has developed wireless, chargeable devices that can be worn around the neck or on the wrist. Those wearing the device can report their health status in real time. The devices also are designed to store anonymous data on all interactions and provide social-distancing statistics to measure how effectively groups are following safety procedures.