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Mobile computer vision enables contactless working and safe scaling

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/ESB Professional)

As Covid-19 emptied cities, streets and offices across the globe, confining citizens to their homes, the virus has turned business imperatives on their head, as well. Employee welfare and customer safety are the new boardroom priorities that trump a swathe of performance KPIs - and will do so for a foreseeable future. Computer vision used on personal smartphones is keeping workers, citizens and customers safe – by enabling contactless ways of working – and businesses viable and future proof as workers return.

In the new world order where health and safety are paramount, computer vision offers two powerful capabilities for humanitarian and corporate efforts: deployed on personal smartphones as opposed to shared scanning devices, it enables customers and employees to scan products, packages and ID cards without touching potentially contaminated surfaces. Alongside contactless working, the second winning capability surfaced by the pandemic is the ability to scale quickly, easily and affordably.

With the age of sharing devices over for now, computer vision can be put to work in any sector, although the greatest need and demand at present is still in retail, logistics and healthcare. No one wishes to touch a screen whether it’s in a hospital, a POS in a supermarket, or on their own doorstep when a courier delivers a parcel. Using computer vision on their own smartphone, either via an app or a browser, employees and customers can operate safely during this unprecedented crisis.

Retailers and customers embrace contactless shopping

Novel and new ways of using computer vision on personal smartphones are helping retailers adapt their business models and methods during the pandemic. Keeping stores safe for employees and customers is not only a top business priority, it’s also maintaining national food security. And in this new retail landscape, computer vision plays a starring role.

Agile retailers are using the technology to reimagine the use of physical space for shopping and collection purposes and are scaling up operations to support the shift to BOPIS (buy online, pick-up in store).  Data capture software that scans barcodes, either with company-owned, personally-enabled smartphones (COPE), or employees’ own phones, is used for order fulfilment, from picking to payment to collection or delivery. Customers in turn use their mobiles to safely collect groceries with one contactless scan.

New retail trends that leverage mobile scanning technology are emerging out of the coronavirus pandemic. For the safety of employees, retailers are reconsidering the use of shared, dedicated scanners in favour of smartphones in the hands of each employee, whether BYOD (bring your own device) or COPE. And, for the safety of shoppers, they are rapidly moving to offering a mobile checkout and a contactless form of payment.

It’s not only the supermarket giants changing tack: local grocers, corner shops and farm shops are also stepping up to meet fresh demand for Click-(or Call)-and-Collect orders. Scaling up and recruiting staff to pick orders and handle collection is a necessary adaptation for every kind of retailer, which computer vision on smartphones can facilitate by augmentation and ease-of-use.

Living through the Covid-19 contagion may require citizens and retailers to adapt to new shopping channels and methods for some time: the Instacart model, where shoppers use a scanning app on their smartphone as proof-of-payment and delivery, has emerged as a sound blueprint for many kinds of retail transactions. And with the retail workforce set to fluctuate for the foreseeable future as employees self-isolate and redeploy – and shopping patterns change in line with government measures – it’s a model that scales, easily and affordably.

Scale signed-for deliveries with social distancing

Many players in the logistics, postal and delivery sectors are already familiar with the combination of computer vision on smartphones, which they use to sprint the last mile to the doorstep. Mobile, smart scanning is a frictionless and fast way to identify and pick parcels from sorting rooms and delivery vans, and provide proof-of-delivery. As retail outlets have only just begun to reopen and deliveries of online orders are continuing to increase, computer vision on smartphones promises to scale up home deliveries quickly and economically.

Prior to Covid-19, global delivery company Yodel invested in computer vision deployed on personal smartphones, replacing the use of shared handsets, in order to grow its self-employed courier workforce quickly and cost-effectively. It reduced the cost of ownership by 70 percent and rapidly deployed new recruits. Effectively, it showcased how a BYOD-based model for mobile scanning could scale during peak-activity scenarios, including a pandemic or other crises.

Since the outbreak of coronavirus, computer vision software on personal phones is yielding new value for logistics companies, allowing couriers to maintain social distancing, and keeping staff and customers safe. BYOD is proving an easy and economical way for commercial enterprises to recruit staff and scale up and down to meet fluctuating demand.

Contactless scanning aids coronavirus testing and patient care

Computer vision has played a critical, humanitarian role during the Covid-19 pandemic, enabling health workers to capture patient ID and clinical samples data quickly, safely and through contactless measures. Because scanning apps are used on medical workers’ own phones, healthcare agencies can scale up testing capability rapidly and deliver them via drive-throughs and field offices. Patient data that’s captured on barcoded ID documents or specimen tubes can be exported automatically, again avoiding any physical contact.

With coronavirus cases continuing to challenge hospitals and care homes, there's an urgent and ongoing need to equip workers and scale up provision of accessible tools that support patient care. Using mobile scanning on personal or hospital and care home-owned smart devices means staff can be productive and safe, providing instant access to patient data. A simple scan of wristbands using everyday mobile devices supports critical workflows such as blood product scanning, barcode medication administration and medication scanning.

As well as making medical and care work contactless and less risky for staff - wherever their location - scanning from smartphones improves speed, accuracy and safety. As governments continue to ramp up and rely on their testing capability in order to control the pandemic, these attributes of smartphones really come into play: their availability and affordability – plus the accuracy of the smart scan – create a viable and scalable platform for testing entire populations, enabling healthy people to return to work.

Retailers, logistics companies and healthcare providers are all seeking new ways to scale fast to meet new demands placed on them by the Covid crisis, while protecting the health of their workers, customers and patients. Computer vision deployed on smart devices is poised to play a growing part in our retail outlets, hospitals, workplaces and economies.

Christian Floerkemeier, CTO, Scandit

Christian Floerkemeier, CTO at Scandit.