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Could this be the answer to social distancing at work?

Sky News logo Sky News 20/05/2020 Rob Dorsett, news correspondent

a group of people standing in a room: The device uses radio waves to measure distance © Sky News Screen Grab The device uses radio waves to measure distance

A beeper has been invented to ensure workers stay two metres apart - activating whenever a colleague wearing one comes too close.

Pathfindr believes its product could help workplaces attempting to protect their staff against the threat of COVID-19, with many companies struggling to ensure that social-distancing guidelines are adhered to.

The Health and Safety Executive has told Sky News it has received about 5,000 concerns about business premises since the pandemic began - including 676 last week.

Based in Norfolk, Pathfindr normally provides internet-based technical solutions for industry, but has now switched production to focus entirely on the beepers.

Ben Sturgess, the company's chief technical officer, told Sky News: "It's very simple to use. You wear it round your neck, on a belt or in your pocket, and it pings out a signal constantly at a rate of about two per second.

"If there are any other devices nearby, it sends the message back, calculating how far that other person is away, and if you're within two metres it emits an audible beep."

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More on coronavirus:

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At first, the developers tried Bluetooth for their self-distancing assistant, but realised that wasn't accurate in close proximity because the signal was bouncing off hard objects or being blocked by people's bodies.

"We are using technology called ultra wideband which is a much higher frequency," Mr Sturgess said.

"The device measures how long a radio wave takes to travel at the speed of light from one device to another and back again."

a man sitting at a desk in front of a computer: Norwich-based Saxon Air is already using the device © Sky News Screen Grab Norwich-based Saxon Air is already using the device

Product design and development would normally take more than four months - but because of the pandemic, a useable device was produced in less than four weeks.

The firm is already selling hundreds of units per week, but international demand has surged, and it is expanding production to cater for several thousand orders per week by the middle of next month.

They say they've had enquiries from martial arts clubs in New York, and large pharmaceutical companies in Europe.

The company's managing director, Matt Isherwood, thinks it could also be a solution for the hospitality industry - and he expects pubs and restaurants to buy them in bulk.

a close up of a sign: The device beeps if it detects another within two metres © Sky News Screen Grab The device beeps if it detects another within two metres

He said: "Any customers would wear them whilst in the building to keep socially distant from other customers and staff, and then hand them back at the end of their visit to be sterilised and used again."

One of Pathfindr's nearby clients is Saxon Air, which operates a private hub for helicopters and jets at nearby Norwich Airport.

Luke Frost, Saxon's safety manager, said: "Social distancing is so abnormal for all of us, and yet overnight there's an expectation we maintain that distance.

"So we've been using the device to help remind everyone in our workspace to keep that two metre distance."

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Stay at home as much as possible to stop coronavirus spreading - here is the latest government guidance. If you think you have the virus, don't go to the GP or hospital, stay indoors and get advice online. Only call NHS 111 if you cannot cope with your symptoms at home; your condition gets worse; or your symptoms do not get better after seven days. In parts of Wales where 111 isn't available, call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47. In Scotland, anyone with symptoms is advised to self-isolate for seven days. In Northern Ireland, call your GP.

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