Editorial Feature

How can IMERAI's 'Bat-Like' Echolocation Sensor Aid Social Distancing?

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To combat the current COVID-19 pandemic, scientists believe that social distancing is the most effective measure to help restrict the spread of the virus. IMERAI has developed a sensor based on the principle of echolocation used in bats. The technology has shown great potential in helping to maintain social distancing.

What is Echolocation?

Professor Alain Van Ryckegham, of the School of Natural Resources at Sir Sandford Fleming College in Lindsay, Canada, explained the principle of echolocation using the example of a bat's navigation system.

Bats use echolocation to understand their physical environment and to help them navigate. They emit an ultrasonic sound (ranging in frequency from 20 to 200 kilohertz) that echoes back after it has been reflected by the obstacles present in its surroundings.

Most species of bats rely on echolocation to identify objects in flight. Typically, echolocation calls are characterized by their intensity in decibels, frequency, and duration in milliseconds. Other species that rely on echolocation for their navigation are whales and dolphins.

Click here to find out more about ultrasonic sensors.

Origin of IMERAI's Echolocation Sensor

Alex Bowen founded IMERAI in 2018. After graduating from Heriot-Watt University, Bowen envisioned a technology from his dissertation project and started his own company.

IMERAI’s artificial intelligence sensor protects the privacy of their user as the non-camera-based sensor creates a visual image upon being voice-activated by a smart home assistant. It does not collect intrusive data such as an image of an individual's face.

Find out more about image sensors here.

Mechanism of the Sensor

IMERAI's device uses a micro-electro-mechanical system (MEMS) microphone to recreate echolocation, i.e., rebounding of ultrasonic waves off objects present in the surrounding environment and determining their position and relative distance. This data is processed by the AI-based system, following which a detailed image of the surroundings is produced.

Applications of the IMERAI Sensor

IMERAI has recently attracted several investors because of the wide-ranging applications of the sensor and its potential in aiding social distancing in office buildings.

In the context of the current pandemic crisis, where social distancing has become a vital aspect of daily life, this sensor could ease the problem of maintaining a social distance at all times. The two main applications of the sensor are discussed below.

Social Distancing

Social distancing is an important measure that involves a decrease in social interaction between people. This aids in the control of coronavirus (COVID-19) transmission, reducing the spread of the infection.

The IMERAI sensor can detect the number of people present in an office building and how close they are positioned. Therefore, this sensor could be a benefit to the current scenario, where countries are still debating on the measures to ease the lockdown without compromising the social distancing approach that could stop the spread of the infection.

Medical Application

Many diseases such as Dementia (Alzheimer's) involve the impairment of cognitive function.

Patients are often unable to comprehend or verbalize their needs, and they commonly suffer short-term memory loss. The impairments affect their day to day functions.

This technology is beneficial for patients suffering from dementia or patients who require special living needs. The movements of these patients can be monitored and an assessment of their deterioration can be carried out immediately. It can also play a crucial role in the early identification of such diseases by studying various behavioral patterns and extracting daily activity data relevant to the condition.

The Future of Echolocation Sensors

Given the current pandemic situation, maintaining social distance with the help of IMERAI's sensors in crowded places such as offices and shopping malls could be a great advantage to society. The device could help decrease the constant fear of failing to maintain social distancing, which is an important measure to control the spread of the infection.

A very important feature of this sensor is the ability to secure the privacy of its users by not using sensitive data such as visuals of human faces. On the contrary, it produces anonymous videos without identifying users.

IMERAI recently announced its collaboration with Apollo Informal Investments. Michiel Smith, Gatekeeper at Apollo Informal Investments, expressed his excitement and optimism in working with IMERAI and in the development of the finest echolocation technology.

References and Further Reading

Settle, M. (2020) Scots firm's new 'bat-like' sensor that uses echolocation could make social distancing easier. [Online] The Herald. Available at:  https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/18500355.scots-firms-new-bat-like-sensor-uses-echo-location-make-social-distancing-easier/ (Accessed on 16 June 2020).

IMERAI. IMERAI secures investment. [Online] (Accessed on 16 June 2020).

Scientific American. How do bats echolocate and how are they adapted to this activity? [Online] Scientific American. Available at: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-do-bats-echolocate-an/ (Accessed on 16 June 2020).

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Dr. Priyom Bose

Written by

Dr. Priyom Bose

Priyom holds a Ph.D. in Plant Biology and Biotechnology from the University of Madras, India. She is an active researcher and an experienced science writer. Priyom has also co-authored several original research articles that have been published in reputed peer-reviewed journals. She is also an avid reader and an amateur photographer.


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