person wearing social distancing wristband by K2
New tech tools like wristbands for social distancing and apps to monitor building occupancy are launching to help businesses across industries reopen in a changed world. — K2

The COVID-19 pandemic is demonstrating that adversity can be the mother of invention.

New tech tools like wearable devices that keep factory workers socially distanced and apps that monitor building occupancy levels are launching seemingly daily, helping manufacturers to restaurants to real estate businesses reopen in a changed world.

The rapid-fire COVID-fueled tech innovation comes as the health crisis reshapes the business landscape.

Indeed, 90% percent of U.S. executives expect the pandemic will fundamentally change the way they do business for the next five years, according to a June report by consulting firm McKinsey & Company.

This is an optimum time for new startups working on a product that serves the immediate needs of the pandemic, Zain Jaffer, owner of investment firm Zain Ventures, which specializes in proptech — real estate-related technology, told CO—.

Jaffer said he is seeing lots of new technology related to 3D virtual tours for real estate, building access controls that use facial recognition, indoor climate control and air purification, and remote collaboration.

In weighing COVID-19 tech investments, Jaffer said he looks for startups that address changes likely to survive post-pandemic.

“The big question is what happens once the lockdowns ends, what happens once there’s a vaccine?” he said. Trends such as working from home are likely to be permanent, while widespread mask wearing probably won’t be, Jaffer said.

 haniel lynn headshot
Haniel Lynn, CEO of Kastle Systems International. — Kastle Systems International

Making buildings anti-COVID ‘safe spaces’

Virginia-based security firm Kastle Systems International has been using technology to make office and residential buildings smarter for decades, but during the pandemic it has shifted focus to making them safer.

In May it introduced KastleSafeSpaces, which combines various tech solutions to offer features such as contactless entry doors and elevators; a mechanism for health screenings for employees and visitors; and social distancing and occupancy monitoring.

“We saw that our clients — building owners and employers — were trying to figure out how to get back to work safely,” Kastle CEO Haniel Lynn told CO—. “We decided to leverage 50 years of history in [building] access control and video surveillance and apply it in a slightly different end use case.”

Kastle had been offering touchless, badge-less credential and entry tech called Kastle Presence, which is linked to a user’s mobile phone, for about five years. Prior to the pandemic, it was viewed more as a perk for high-end office and residential tenants. Now it is seen as a must-have for offices and apartments.

The Kastle mobile app can be used for health screenings by requiring users to answer health questions in order to activate the app.

It can also serve as the credential that grants access to office gyms or other amenities, or limit access to bathrooms to the allowable social distancing number.

This is an optimum time for new startups working on a product that serves the immediate needs of the pandemic.

Zain Jaffer, owner, Zain Ventures

 virussafe pro software
WorkMerk has partnered with Irvine to create VirusSAFE Pro, a technology platform designed to gives workers a digital checklist of tasks and can make sure they complete them. — WorkMerk

Making restaurant customers feel safe

When the pandemic hit the restaurant industry, celebrity chef Robert Irvine knew it was crucial that restaurants win back the confidence of customers.

Irvine discussed that problem with the owners of Pennsylvania-based WorkMerk, a three-year-old workforce management software company that creates digital checklists for mission critical jobs for the military, transportation, healthcare and other industries. WorkMerk was founded by veterans and Irvine knew the owners through his support for veterans’ organizations.

WorkMerk in March announced it had partnered with Irvine to create VirusSAFE Pro, a technology platform designed to ensure employees complete required sanitation and safety protocols, and that also gives customers like restaurant diners information about those actions.

The platform gives workers a digital checklist of tasks and can make sure they complete them.

Customers, in turn, can get information about how often a restaurant has been sanitized and other safety measures either by scanning a QR code on their phones or by accessing a link provided by the restaurant.

WorkMerk has created a similar platform for schools and colleges, Virus SAFE Edu., that parents can access to “feel assured that the safety and security of their loved ones is being looked after,” John New, founder and CEO of WorkMerk, told CO—. “It’s all about getting people to feel safe,” he said.

Watch Now: CO— Blueprint, 9/23

Check out the video from our CO— Blueprint event that took place Wednesday, September 23, 2020, where the panel discussed everything you need to know about recruiting and managing cohesive teams remotely.



 K2 co-founders slade and kai laskowski
The Bluetooth-enabled wristbands by K2.Life can be adjusted to measure for a particular distance and set to vibrate when wearers get within that distance from each other. — K2.Life LLC

Wristbands for social distancing and contact tracing

At the beginning of this year, Slade and Kai Laskowski were working in their family’s business, Los Angeles-based Khepra, Inc., an IT consulting and distribution company specializing in disaster mitigation, recovery and prevention technologies, when they began hearing about the spread of COVID-19 and the need to trace infected persons.

They told their father, John Laskowski, chief strategy officer of Khepra, “Dad, we can figure this out.”

Khepra now serves as the distributor for the company born from those discussions. K2.Life LLC, headed by Slade, 27, and Kai, 21, is making Bluetooth-enabled wristbands and other wearables that send social distancing alerts if the wearers get too close to each other and collect data that can be used for contact tracing if a wearer becomes ill.

The devices are in use in factories, warehouses, colleges, and K2.Life is in discussions with municipal agencies and other businesses, John Laskowski told CO—.

When connected with contact tracing software, the devices, worn on the wrist or on a lanyard, can tell how often wristband A was in contact with wristband B over a period of time. They can be adjusted to measure for a particular distance and set to vibrate when wearers get within that distance from each other.

Contact tracing is a top concern of manufacturers, “because they can’t afford to shut their plants down,” Laskowski said. “They need to isolate the one or three or 15 people right away and get them off the floor and get the place back open.”

 FaceMe health platform
The FaceMe Health platform combines facial recognition, artificial intelligence and thermal imaging to detect if someone is wearing a mask properly and identify temperatures. — CyberLink Corp./FaceCake Marketing Technologies, Inc.

From makeup to masks

CyberLink Corp. and FaceCake Marketing Technologies Inc. are two companies that have taken augmented reality technology originally developed to help sell makeup through virtual try-ons and are applying it to face masks.

CyberLink, a 25-year-old multimedia software company based in Taiwan, in August launched the FaceMe Health platform, which combines facial recognition, artificial intelligence and thermal imaging to detect if someone is wearing a mask properly, and spot people with elevated temperatures.

The software is sensitive enough to be able to perform facial recognition identification of employees, even if they are wearing a mask.

“It can be used in any number of use cases that would benefit from facial recognition, such as contactless authentication or log-in access,” Richard Carriere, senior vice president for the U.S. for CyberLink, told CO—.

Hotels, for example, could use it to grant access to rooms and it could be paired with a smart elevator to recognize a guest’s face and automatically deliver him or her to a specific floor.

California-based FaceCake Marketing Technologies, another company with years of experience pre-pandemic in developing virtual try-on tools for makeup, clothing, eyeglasses and jewelry, has launched an augmented reality application that lets online shoppers try on face masks virtually before they make a purchase.

“We consider everything from curvature of face to the dynamics of a person’s nose bridge and how the fabric would shape to various face sizes and proportions,” Robb Whittlef, chief marketing officer of FaceCake told CO—.

McKinsey & Company, in its June report, noted that investing in innovation during a crisis is a smart move, for companies that can afford to.

“In past crises,” according to McKinsey, “companies that invested in innovations delivered superior growth and performance, post-crisis.”

For more resources from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:

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Published September 14, 2020