Mind the Gap: Network Rail trials distancing app


A new social-distancing app is ready for industry-wide deployment after a successful pilot with Network Rail, its developers have said.

Technology start-up Hack Partners said Mind The Gap uses inaudible ultra high frequency sounds and Bluetooth to calculate the distance between mobile phones.

Network Rail's 'The Quadrant' HQ in Milton Keynes

The technology does not require an active internet connection and has the option to customise the distance that triggers the alert so it can be adapted for any change in government guidelines.

Hack Partners chief operating officer Haydon Bartlett-Tasker said: ‘We developed Mind The Gap initially to help railway staff maintain social distancing whilst at work.

‘We quickly identified it could be opened up to other industries which - like the rail sector - face difficult challenges in safeguarding their employees that work across a variety of environments. ‘

Network Rail rolled the app out to the company phones of a number of teams that have needed to return to an office environment, including those responsible for developing timetables in its Milton Keynes HQ, and workers in a Sussex maintenance depot.

Feedback was collected from users to judge both how the technology worked, and how useful employees found it.

Martin Frobisher, Network Rail’s safety, technical, and engineering director, said the app will sit alongside other measures it is putting in place such as deep cleaning, clear signage, staggered shifts and flexible working.

He said: ‘I am immensely proud of our entire workforce for the part they have played to keep the country running throughout the pandemic. For thousands of our staff that has meant working from home, and many will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

‘But as we start to plan for a return to office working, we’ve been looking at absolutely everything to make sure we can continue to keep our people safe, and Mind The Gap is an important part of that.’

Hack Partners said the app has no user-tracking in place, with no sensitive data collected, stored or shared. ‘This means employers will not have the capability to monitor employees’ movement either past or present.’

The firm said the app’s underlying technology has proven to be so promising that discussions have now begun with contact tracing app developers who are struggling to get accurate distance results.

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