Back Off! My SocialSafety Smartphone Is Beeping

Maybe you saw “60 Minutes” on Sunday as Bill Ford, the executive chairman of the car giant that bears his name, discussed how the company is testing Samsung smartwatches that will beep when a co-worker gets closer than six feet from a work mate. 

A similar wristband, from a Canadian company called Proxxi, goes on sale in May for $100. Another wristband, called Immutouch, does nothing about too-close workers,  but vibrates every time you touch your face. Stop that!

Now there’s SocialSafety, which just uses employees’ existing smartphones. When one co-worker gets less than six feet away from another, both of their smartphones start to vibrate and beep, and the screen starts turning from blue to red.  

Designed for the workplace, employees get the app signal from their Bluetooths, and affix their phone to their arm.

Get closer and the SocialSafety beep becomes more and more urgent, sounding like an automobile rear-view motion detector does in newer model cars. SocialSafety is designed so it will only become activated at a specific workplace. 

The company’s demo includes a way to sign up as a beta tester.

It’s a surprisingly elementary video. Anis Dave, the chief technology officer, stands in his backyard and points to a series of cones arranged in a circle so they are six feet away from a co-worker in the middle. 

When Dave, wearing a phone with a SocialSafety app, walks from the edge of the circle toward the coworker, both of their phones start to beep. That stops when they separate to the proper distance. 

That’s it. "It was important to us to provide an easy-to-use product with a fast turnaround," Dave says. "We knew we could solve a problem that a lot of businesses would be struggling with over the coming months."

SocialSafety comes from a small consulting firm for apps, called From, The Digital Agency. Howard Tiersky,  the CEO, acknowledges that imagining workers walking around with their smartphone on their arm seems strange, but then again, some joggers do it. And it’s likely those co-workers will also be wearing a mask and maybe gloves. A lot of unimaginable things have happened since mid-March, and more are probably coming. 

“We think there are going to be a lot of people out there looking for a solution,” he says, and one tied to a readily available smartphone is quick, easy and cheap.  Most likely, it could be fine-tuned, he says, but instead From is marketing what is commonly called a minimally viable product that can be tweaked on the fly.  

Tiersky agrees the Social Safety app can seem like  “a pain in the butt. Yeah, it sounds like a nuisance -- but if it’s going to make your business safe -- it’s going to make you super-happy.”

From's business is making apps with some major brands including NBC, Avis, Madison Square Garden and Broadway’s Shubert Theatre. Making a crisis-created beeper is a departure.

But “I think it’s conceivable our product, or somebody else’s that does something like it, will be necessary. And really, thank God if something better comes around,” he says.

“A vaccine would be better. The number-one solution is a vaccine. There may be one in another year. But what are we going to do now?”

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