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Social distancing, i.e., getting no closer to other people than a maximum of one and a half to two meters, will probably remain with us for some time. This will be required “until a vaccine or at least a drug to combat COVID-19 is available,” politicians tell us almost daily in a prayerful way. But nobody can tell us when that will be. “At the end of this year at the earliest, maybe next year.”

Now the next question is how long people will really stick to it. Now that the weather is good, law enforcement officers already have their hands full monitoring this ban on contact. The longer the crisis lasts, the more difficult and costly this task could become. But it is not always possible to avoid crowds completely. This is the case when shopping, for example, if you have to stand in line in front of a shop until you are finally let in. The British start-up Lanterne, which is supported by the European Space Agency (ESA), has now invented a free app that independently monitors social distancing.

Anonymized data from Google Maps

The Crowdless app uses satellite data and AI to determine where several people are gathering and can do this for any location in the world. This data comes from anonymized, existing data sources, such as Google Maps and Google Places, which track the movements of mobile devices such as cell phones or tablets. It combines this information with crowd sourcing data by asking the user to confirm whether or not there are many people in their location.

© Lanterne

With the help of this app, people who want to go to the supermarket or pharmacy, for example, can check to see how crowded the respective store is before they leave home. If there are too many people, they could either go shopping later or switch to less crowded shops nearby, say the inventors.

Lanterne co-founders Alex Barnes, Yohan Iddawela and Sebastian Mueller created the app by building on the development of their core product, which is designed to help people in conflict areas navigate safely. After three days, the app was ready for use and has already been tested over the past four weeks in the form of six additional prototypes.

Absolutely free of charge

“Our hope is that Crowdless can help people to monitor social distancing more effectively, stay safe and help slow down the infection rate of COVID-19,” says Yohan Iddawela. “That’s why we wanted to see how we could use our skills to help people in such a difficult time. We are also committed to making this app completely free for everyone.”

Nick Appleyard, Head of Business Operations at ESA, is also pleased. “We are all taking care to maintain social distance and avoid crowds and look forward to the day when we can once again lead a more normal, everyday life. This app can help bring us closer to that day. In the meantime, we can all stay safe.”

Crowdless is free and available for download on iOS and Android.


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