ZeroKey solves everyday enterprise problems; Safe Space and Smart Space products help companies operate safely during the pandemic.
By David Soyka, Senior Editor, Industry Today
Digital transformation is about gaining insight from the data generated by the complex interactions of people, machines, tools and other assets in the workplace, then scaling these insights throughout the organization. Sometimes, though, it’s more a simple matter of making sure people are staying safe and keeping their distance.
During the pandemic, companies have made both adjustments to the ways they perform work and to the products their customers need. For ZeroKey, a Canadian company with headquarters in Calgary, Alberta and offices in Sunnyville, Calif., its proprietary technology that digitizes the location of personnel and equipment in hyper-accurate real-time 3D formed the basis for a perfect solution to ensure employees maintain physical distancing.
“It was actually the result of something our customers were asking for,” explains Matthew Lowe, ZeroKey co-founder and CEO, about its Safe Space and Smart Space. “We started the company about five years ago to develop advanced human-machine interfaces. It’s sort of like in the movie Minority Report, where Tom Cruise uses hand gestures to navigate data displays. That was the whole idea, to provide a natural human-machine interface without need of a mouse or a keyboard.”
Hence the name for the company—ZeroKey—a virtual “keyboard” with zero keys.
An automotive manufacturer that was an early client liked the idea, particularly as it applied to tracking objects and processes on the factory floor. That led to 3D digitization of location with accuracy unmatched by any other technologies.
The time wasn’t too long ago where digital display of objects in 3D space was a movie special effect and not a practical application. That’s because it is an exceedingly complex technical undertaking to provide a high degree of accuracy to track all the various moving parts of people and assets in real-time. Thanks to ZeroKey innovation, actual practical application is no longer the stuff of make-believe.
Digitization of factory floors and warehouse spaces as well as other industrial processes makes up about 80 percent of ZeroKey’s current business. When the pandemic hit, developing a real-time proximity system to ensure workers maintain safe distances and safe practices was a comparatively simple offshoot of its core competency.
“It started out as a software add-on for our existing customers to perform other operational processes, such as to locate parts and people on an assembly line and gather data to improve production efficiency,” Lowe notes. “Then the pandemic hit and it became a tool to perform accurate contact tracing and ensure worker safety.”
The two resulting standalone products are Safe Space and Smart Space.
Maintaining a Safe Space
Safe Space is a wearable badge that beeps and vibrates along with a green light flash whenever someone gets within six feet (two meters) of one another, essentially warning the wearer to back up. In addition, should there be an exposure, data is immediately available as to who should be isolated.
Lowe argues that, “Safe Space takes the time and guesswork out of contact tracing, avoiding what in many cases results in the complete shutdown of production lines as a cautionary measure. This technology is better than anything that is currently out there. In many cases, workers are identified with COVID, sure they isolate them, but they have no way of knowing exactly each and everyone else those workers came into contact with. Safe Space provides it automatically.”
He also emphasizes the privacy protections of the application. “The badge has a unique ID number attached to it. That ID is only accessed when there is a confirmed exposure and then it looks at the people associated with ID numbers of those who may have been exposed. And it is only active within the confines of the workplace. The system only tracks very basic proximity information. You don’t know details such as if a person went on break or went to the bathroom. The system doesn’t track that.”
ZeroKey claims Safe Space is the most accurate—100 times more accurate than comparable devices that rely on Bluetooth—and features other advancements such as military-grade security. Plus, when the pandemic is finally over, customers can recoup costs by redeploying the devices as part of ZeroKey’s Smart Space solution—an industrial process and asset tracking solution to optimize operations and reduce process failures.
Maintaining a Smart Space
Smart Space is a step up in sophistication towards optimizing workflows. It is a hyper-accurate RTLS (real-time location system) acoustic-based indoor patented positioning technology that digitizes the location of assets, personnel and equipment in three dimensions across large industrial environments, down to the millimeter. Gathered data provides highly actionable insights into operational improvements.
Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) sensors deployed across a site and attached to equipment, tools, machinery and personnel digitize manual processes and workflows. Users can then literally visualize in real-time how people and assets move through a workflow chain, identify inefficiencies and bottlenecks, track errors and improve operations.
‘This is the foundation of what people mean when they talk about the ‘Factory of the Future.’ The analytical insights you gain from Smart Space technology drive workflow automation and process solutions that are unprecedented,” Lowe says.
While these kinds of technologies can sometimes be viewed as threatening worker jobs, Lowe says the opposite is actually the case. “We’ve had several discussions with unions and employee groups so everyone understands the purpose of the technology is to improve worker safety and optimize human-driven tasks. Robots are already automated—there’s no place for our technology there. Our technology actually helps humans perform their tasks better with fewer errors, and that staves off automation of human jobs.”
Easy Implementation with High Precision
Lowe says that a chief differentiator of ZeroKey products in addition to unmatched high precision and technical innovation is ease of set-up. “I’m aware of competitive offerings that require several days to roll-out,” he points out. “In contrast, our tech is super easy. You can literally set-up the sensors and be up and running in a matter of minutes with our proprietary technology.”
In addition, Lowe says the sensor technology is easily integrated into other corporate and ERP systems to help provide insights that could be scaled throughout the enterprise.
As a software company, ZeroKey works with contract manufacturers to produce the badges and sensors. While headquartered in North America, ZeroKey solutions are also in use throughout Europe, Japan and Korea.
“We’re working with channel partners to provide solutions for the factory floor, assembly lines, and supply chain applications to help humans interact with each other and artificial intelligence systems,” Lowe says. “With location digitization, ZeroKey expands a company’s capabilities to more effectively solve its enterprise issues, from the simple to the most complex.”
ZeroKey breakthrough sensor technology provides hyper-accurate real-time 3D localization of robotic equipment, autonomous forklifts, human operators, and other industrial assets across large industrial environments.
Matthew Lowe | Co-Founder & CEO
Matt is a native Calgarian with a passion for tech and entrepreneurship. As the original inventor behind ZeroKey’s Smart Space technology, Matt holds over 22 patents, and is responsible for taking a back-of-the-napkin idea and building it into a rapidly scaling tech company. Prior to founding ZeroKey, Matt worked as the head of Information Systems (North America subsidiaries) of Wilo AG, a major manufacturing company with global revenue of over $2 billion USD. Over the course of a 15+ year career in the tech industry, Matt has contributed to several mega projects including Linux and Arduino. Linux is used by over 2 billion devices worldwide including all Android smartphones, and Arduino is the world-leading hardware prototyping platform.
This article is sponsored by Zerokey.