The Era of Social Distancing: Polte’s New IoT Wearable Keeps Coworkers 6 Feet Apart

Addison-based Polte is an expert at asset tracking. But in the time of COVID-19, the team realized a solution was needed to track a company's most important assets at the moment: people.

Companies across Dallas-Fort Worth are preparing for the “new normal.” For some, that means making office renovations to keep spaces sanitized. For others, that’s prompted a permanent policy to work from home (or wherever). But for Addison-based Polte, the leader in accurate Cloud Location over Cellular (C-LoC) technology, the new era of working prompted an entirely new solution—one that will actually help businesses across the country in keeping employees safe.

Polte’s entire goal is to use cloud computing technology to both slow the spread of COVID‑19 and automate new safety protocol compliance. 

The company has been fine-tuning Polte Proximity, an IoT contacting tracing solution that leverages Polte’s existing technology to help people social distance in the workplace. Using the Polte IoT Cloud (PIC), an asset tracking platform, companies are able to quickly deploy and automate the safety protocol for all employees.

Though it’s a variation of Polte’s day-to-day business, Polte Proximity is cut from the same cloth.

Polte technology allows manufacturers, distributors, and sellers of goods to more effectively track, manage, and geolocate millions of distributed assets. GPS and Wi-Fi are the most common location technologies, but are more expensive, battery draining, and only work where there’s a direct line of sight to satellites. That’s where Polte comes in.

The health outbreak caused CEO Ed Chao and his team to refocus that core mission.

Originally, they honed in on how to work remotely, but quickly grew accustomed to being productive while on Zoom and Slack all day long. The Polte platform appeals to many different segments, from consumer to enterprise, so COVID-19 forced the team to reevaluate areas “ripe for innovation” like supply chain, logistics, distribution, and manufacturing.

But then, Chao says, they decided to start focusing on what matters most to the world right now, especially as it relates to Polte technology.

“Our core business is about asset tracking. We leverage 4G and 5G cellular and cloud computing to provide location indoors and out for assets. That’s just what we do,” he told Dallas Innovates. “And then we came to a realization: ‘What’s the most important asset that everybody has?’ People.”

Polte partners and customers started asking Chao how the technology could help with social distancing and contact tracing. Originally, he suggested they just download an app, but soon realized that could be tedious and intrusive.

“We realized there’s a way to create a more non-invasive, no download-needed, out-of-the box capability that’s based on IoT. It’s super low power, has long battery life—it’s our same core value proposition, but just in a different use case called Polte Proximity,” he says. “As we talk to more and more people, it’s started becoming potentially ‘the platform’ that a lot of companies are going to look to use to help get back to work.”

The ins and outs of Polte Proximity

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Polte hopes the device will start helping eliminate roadblocks for enterprises to safely get back to work.

The device securely connects to ubiquitous 4G LTE and 5G cellular networks—similar to Polte’s patented “alternative to GPS”—to provide management with actionable analytics regarding employee contact. There’s real-time location and proximity alerts, and even an anonymous self-reporting button that allows employees notify leadership of unsafe conditions in any area.

 

Essentially, Chao says, the device is helping empower employees.

Polte Proximity helps people learn what social distancing and exposure is all about. Through subtle alerts, an employee can be notified if they’ve been in a confined space with a large number of people for too long or if they’re putting others in uncomfortable situations.

“It helps employers enforce their guidelines, whether they want to make that more stringent or looser. If they want stringent, they can turn on alerts that require an employee to press the button that they acknowledge they were notified,” Chao says. “Furthermore, that button can be used for the employee. One of the biggest issues is the ‘social stigma.’ So the button is a way to anonymously and privately report when employees don’t feel safe—and that information, together with location and time, can help employers become aware of conditions in certain places.”

The device has an easy set-up right out of the box: No additional infrastructure or download to a phone is needed, it’s low cost and low power, and works indoors and out.

Picture a small, rechargeable wearable device similar to a key fob. Employees would wear Polte Proximity on an ID badge or facility access card, and can leave it at the office or turned off overnight.

“Getting back to work is as much of a psychological thing as it is a physical thing,” Chao says. “I think leveraging technology to be ‘the platform’ that allows us all to get back is powerful.”

Chao expects to get initial commercial devices out in the next two to three months and ramp up production before the end of the year. He expects Polte Proximity to come in handy most in manufacturing or distribution facilities or on large, multi-building campuses. An early adopter is Teltech Group, a Frisco-based technical services and asset management company, which says the device will help “quickly identify and remediate potential high-exposure areas in their warehouses.”

And, in rolling out Polte Proximity, Chao and his team plan to donate half of the profits in 2020 to coronavirus relief efforts.

“Where this is coming from is us trying to do what we can from our corner of the world,” Chao says. “It sounds very cliche, but we just want to make make the world a little better place.”

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