Have you ever wondered where all these contact-tracing and social-distancing solutions came from? It’s not like they were developed and ready to roll out – the use of technology to support back-to-work strategies is unprecedented in history. Unprecedented and unpredicted: up until March we’d barely thought about shutting down; up until April we’d never considered what it would mean to open back up, and here we are in May with a veritable smorgasbord of solutions to choose from.
So where did they all come from? I can’t answer for everyone, but I can tell you how Ubisense did it. To be honest we are feeling a bit proud of ourselves, because we did it in less than a week. How so? Twenty years of developing a platform that can adapt to new use cases with just a small amount of configuration, and zero new code.
Twenty years summed up in one week
Let’s start with what our solution does, because the fast development time was certainly not the result of keeping it simple. We engaged in about three weeks of intensive market research, talking not only to our global customer base but also a wide variety of other businesses from building cars to making chocolate to manufacturing pharmaceuticals and cosmetics and all the way to farming. That was really the longest part: the deep dive into what people needed to help them get back to work.
On the back of that we developed a 3D model of the environment to track the motion of people and shared assets using real-time location sensors. We built a complex contact model that takes account of the separation of people, the duration and frequency of contact, the effects of the environment (e.g. walls and barriers) and even person-to-object-to-person contacts. We took account of cleaning, and even developed tools to direct cleaners to hotspots based on traffic and utilization. We developed complex analytics to help managers evaluate whether staff are adhering to social distancing policies and highlighting parts of the facility where the policies themselves are insufficient. We developed contact tracing tools to flag people who might be at risk based on an individual becoming infected. We configured dashboards, digital signage and alerts to inform people and keep them safe.
And we did that in a week.
To be fair most of that was already done before we even heard of COVID-19, and that’s pretty much the whole point: our SmartSpace platform is a tool for the rapid development of solutions built on location intelligence. It’s entire reason-for-being is to give users the ability to compose space in a way that delivers solutions without writing any code.
How we compose space
“Compose space?” you ask. Exactly that, actually. Just as you can’t compose poetry without a written language to express thoughts, or a symphony without the musical notation to express orchestrations, you can’t compose spatial solutions without the language to express motion and interaction.
That’s exactly what lies at the heart of SmartSpace: a spatial programming language that allows us to develop things like complex contact models with almost trivial ease. Concepts such as location, proximity, interaction, sequence etc. form SmartSpace’s lingua franca that connects any and all location-centric solutions. Seen in this way contact-tracing and social-distancing are a very small step from process monitoring and control, which has traditionally been SmartSpace’s primary use.
With that structure in place the underlying mechanics of the contact model are quick to configure. Concepts such as “an object requires cleaning when it has reached a threshold of contamination based on the duration and frequency of use, where ‘use’ is defined as having been collocated with a person for an extended period of time” can be expressed quickly and without writing any new code.
The underlying data modelling language in SmartSpace can then go on to develop all the metrics required to deliver the functionality required (for example keeping track of where contacts are regularly occurring) and the only remaining task is to configure dashboards to deliver that information to people cleanly and unambiguously. Again, all this happens with zero coding.
And that’s about the fourth time I’ve mentioned “no coding”. It’s critically important for two reasons: one is that it’s very quick to compose complex logic when you already have the building blocks in place – that’s part of why we can configure these solutions so quickly. The second is very much more important: a dramatically reduced test cycle with a very rapid ramp to production readiness. Why? Because this same code base has already been verified for mission-critical solutions and is running 24×7 in such applications globally.
Zero code development is fast, reliable and quickly deployable and is the absolute core of how SmartSpace works. We put this solution together in less than a week because we didn’t have to go through the development cycles, code reviews, testing and battle-hardening of a million lines of code to make it work.
Even then, getting to a functioning application does not make a deployable solution. All of the back-end work that a truly trustworthy solution must do is also pre-existing SmartSpace, and all require only simple configuration to be ready to deploy: connections to all manner of different location sensors, APIs to connect to other business systems, GDPR-compliant privacy controls, cloud and on premise hosting options, self-diagnostic tools, machinery for failover to guarantee availability and a host over other critical components that separate a mission-critical solution from a quickly coded prototype.
So yes, we’re feeling a bit proud of ourselves. Our contact-tracing solution is the perfect manifestation of SmartSpace’s core DNA: a platform to rapidly configure complex location-based solutions that can be confidently deployed in mission critical applications. At the start of the year we had no idea we’d need to develop this solution, nor what the solution would look like. If you’d asked us then though, we could have confidently told you that we were already 80% done.
And that’s how we did it in a week.
Written by Adrian Jennings, Chief Product Advocate at Ubisense
Adrian Jennings serves as Chief Product Advocate for Ubisense. In this role he acts as a spokesperson, accelerating development and adoption of Ubisense’s SmartSpace platform by working with all stakeholders from initial vision through successful use. He brings the vision of the product to the market, helping evangelise this new category of spatial digitisation platform, and brings the vision of the market to the product, helping Ubisense align around a common goal.
Prior to joining Ubisense Jennings was CTO of Time Domain, a location technology provider for both civilian and military use. He is a recovering rocket scientist, and as designated UK intelligence expert spent three years as a missile consultant with the US Department of Defence. He received a master’s degree in physics from Oxford University and now finds himself bemusedly working for a Cambridge company.