ODID DPhil and team set to launch new social distancing app

ODID DPhil student Alex Barnes is part of a team developing a new app to help people adhere to social distancing rules imposed across the world to halt the spread of coronavirus.

Keep Your Distance provides real-time data on how crowded essential places such as supermarkets and pharmacies are so that people can choose the best place and time to visit. If a location is particularly crowded, the app will suggest less crowded locations nearby.

The app, which will be free to download, is being developed by Lanterne, a social enterprise which aims to use data to improve safety and promote economic development. The app will help with social distancing measures globally, which some recent studies indicate may need to be in place in some form as late as 2022.

‘Our plans to roll out our core product — an app to help people navigate safely in conflict areas — were heavily disrupted by the COVID-19 outbreak’, Alex said. 'We were keen to see what we could do to help in the current circumstances, and our Chief Technology Officer Sebastian came up with “Keep Your Distance”. We think it will be extremely useful for people who need to travel to shops and grocery stores, but are trying to do social distancing effectively to protect themselves and the wider population.’

Keep Your Distance uses Google Maps and Google Places data alongside crowd-sourced information from users, who can report how busy the venues they visit are. Google are providing $2,500 of Google credits per month to help support the development of the app.

Software development began on 19 March and the team now have a working prototype. The app, which aims to attract users anywhere in the world, will be ready to download within two weeks.

The team are working with Adapt, a UK-based social enterprise that specialises in data security, data privacy and data ethics to ensure user privacy. The app does not collect any personal identifiable data and a person’s current location is used only to display the most relevant search results.

Lanterne has received funding and support from the European Space Agency Business Incubation Centre United Kingdom, the European Union’s Big Data Corridor, Oxford Foundry, London School of Economics Generate, Santander Universities and Yoti.

The team are currently seeking early users to test Keep Your Distance this week — please sign up via the site to volunteer as a tester.