Existing security cameras could help Illinois schools, businesses maintain social distancing during COVID-19

ByJason Knowles and Ann Pistone WLS logo
Friday, October 2, 2020
How heat-detecting cameras could help IL maintain social distancing at schools
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Getting people back into the workplace and the classroom can help breathe life back into the economy. But there are still concerns about COVID-19 exposure.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Getting people back into the workplace and the classroom can help breathe life back into the economy, but there are still concerns about COVID-19 exposure. Technology may be able to help with that problem.

Cameras in schools and offices have been used for years to assist with security. Now those same cameras can be used in the Chicago area to find spots where people tend to crowd. Existing cameras with added heat map technology can help school districts and companies see where people are too close together.

"The point is to make better management decisions, and keep people safer, and open faster with less risk," said Benjamin Ziomek, co-founder of the tech firm Actuate.

Actuate is adding the company's technology to building cameras. Ziomek said identifying congestion areas helps schools and businesses modify schedules and traffic flow to improve social distancing.

"We keep track of it and output heat maps that show down to the square foot where are people having trouble social distancing," he explained. "For example, if there is a desk in the way and people have to go around the desk, we show you that and you can move the desk."

But what about privacy issues? Or the risk of shaming someone over not social distancing properly?

Ziomek said they don't use facial recognition or divulge identities of people getting to close.

"All we are doing is looking thru that existing security footage and saying, 'Oh here is a person and here is person, for social distancing they may be too close together.' We don't show images of people to our customers we just tell them where the problem is, so, for example, entrance three, this square foot of ground has more social distancing issues," he said.

The company said it has contracts nationwide and is analyzing images on more than 10,000 cameras. According to the company, 1,000 of those cameras are in Illinois.

"Multiple schools and school districts in the Chicagoland area and some of the highest profile buildings in the Loop," said Ziomek.

Actuate said their safety technology is cheaper than having companies and schools continuously watch their own video screens for social distancing-problem areas. Their cost to companies is $10 per camera, per month.