Belgian rail tests sensors to keep workers apart during COVID-19

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Belgium’s railways are testing smart cameras with sensors to ensure its workers wear masks and maintain their distance to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

From next week, so-called intelligent cameras will be installed in five strategic points in the offices of Belgian rail infrastructure operator Infrabel, where technicians would normally come together, such as the cafeteria.

A warning will sound if people are too numerous, do not have a face mask or get too close.

“We must ensure that our staff complies with the various social distancing guidelines. This is why we are setting up a number of devices based on artificial intelligence,” Benoit Gilson, Infrabel’s strategy director, told Reuters on Monday.

Using AI software available online, Infrabel said it had developed a way to interpret camera images for the purpose of COVID-19 protection. The company will employ an algorithm to calculate if workers are too close or wearing a face mask.

In a demonstration on Monday, staff seen on camera were shown on a giant screen as stick figures whose distance apart could be measured in metres. On another screen, a camera detected if a worker entering a room was wearing a mask.

“The whole issue of distance (between individuals) is (managed by) a mathematical model that we developed,” said Daniel Degueldre, head of Infrabel’s information technology team.

The company, which has 11,000 employees, said it had already been working on ways to use sensors to protect technicians working on the Belgian railways by placing cameras on helmets that would alert staff in an accident.

That know-how was reappraised to fight coronavirus.

Responsible for Belgium’s 3,602 km (2,238 miles) of rail lines, Infrabel manages one of the world’s most dense rail networks.

Writing by Robin Emmott; Editing by Giles Elgood

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