Wearables for "Social Distancing"

Introduction: Wearables for "Social Distancing"

We're working on wearables for social distancing to ensure that people remain at-a-distance to reduce the spread of CoViD-19. Rather than all of us needing our own private air supply (very impractical), we have come up with a better way to promote and maintain social-distancing.

We're a team (Steve, Cayden, Christina, and others) working together at MannLab Canada.

Step 1: Define the Problem (or Create More Problems in Order to Understand the World...)

We are living in a world where we fear the unknown and invisible contagion of disease. We are uncertain of what the next day is going to bring us.

Social distancing has become necessary to prevent the spread of disease.

We need a technology that will allow users to know whether people are, in fact, keeping social distance. We also desire a technology that encourages proper social-distancing.

Solving problems is not the only approach that makes sense. Sometimes artistic exploration is a good place to start, e.g. exploring different methods of coming to grips with the world.

Let us begin with a different way of stating the problem, e.g. through social commentary:

"The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been hidden by the answers." -- James Baldwin.

Step 2: Ideation

Let's begin by thinking of many different ideas.

They need not be practical, but, rather, will build off of each other as we approach the final stages of prototyping.

As we begin, let us first explore many ideas, even some crazy ones.

For instance, what could be more absurd and crazy than having each of us go inside our own social bubble, supplied with a blower from HEPA filtered air? This way, we are maintaining social distance inside our own 2-metre diameter ball.

Totally impractical, e.g. can't fit through doorways, and require help getting into and out of the ball, e.g. the person helping you in and out of the ball would need to wear a HEPA mask, etc..

But it is fun and crazy, and helps us understand the problem, while "having a ball at the beach".

For instance, imagine the long spiked collars you sometimes see on dogs and even humans.

Could these be extended to define a greater social distance?

Although not practical, it certainly makes for interesting social commentary.

The social distancing idea came to mind after looking at the spiked collar. It 'screams' "stay away from me, getting close could be dangerous".

Step 3: Prototyping

We began with some fun and crazy outlandish prototypes as a form of social commentary or performance art.

Early examples included 3D-printed versions of the collar with long and thin circular metal spikes sticking out as a form of social commentary.

As this project has progressed, the prototypes have become more refined and useable in everyday life. Initially, we started out with a few wooden collars and evolved to a 3D printed prototype.

Step 4: Testing

The prototype was tested after construction. The apparatus successfully notified the user when a social-distancing intruder came too close (2 meter or closer) to the wearer. In one test, we connected the 12 sonars through a multiplexer/demultiplexer to an ESP32 which was connected to a solderless breadboard worn on the back of the neck.

The idea was to create notifications in a clockface pattern, For instance, if an intruder (unknown subject) comes up behind you, there's a vibrotactile device that signals the back of your neck, at the 6 oclock position. If the intruder is to your right, you get a vibrotactile signal at the right, in the 3 oclock position, and so on.

We also implemented a PPI (Plan Position Indicator) to show where intruders enter. The PPI indicates where and how close each intruder gets.


Darkness is used to indicate range, in this case, black and green. Black (infinite distance), had been used to indicate intruders are far from the user as they will appear darker the further they get. On the other hand, green had been used to show closeness of intruders. Brighter green indicates an intruder is closer. The closest range of the sonar is 2 cm (indicated as maximally bright green).

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