Proximity sensors could have a role to play in helping organisations recover from the coronavirus, in a world in which some social distancing may need to be maintained when buildings reopen to workers or the public.

The Ford Motor Company is one organisation experimenting with wearable social distancing devices that vibrate to alert employees when another worker has moved within two metres of them.

The technology is being trialled at the firm’s Plymouth, Michigan, factory as a possible worker safety solution for when facilities reopen after the lockdown.

Elsewhere in the US, Triax Technologies is one of several technology companies developing proximity sensors for the construction, oil, gas, and energy industries. Its cellular TraceTag system can be fixed to hard hats or lanyards and emits an alarm when safe social distancing has been breached by workers.

In Florence, Italy, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore – better known as Duomo – is trialling a similar wearable solution for visitors. The lanyard-style sensors flash and vibrate when wearers walk within two metres of each other. Each device will have to be disinfected after use.

Meanwhile in Spain, the tourist resort of Fuengirola is experimenting with a smart beach initiative – an artificial intelligence system and sensors fitted to lamp posts – in order to monitor the numbers of people crowding into tourist hotspots during the summer.

In each of these cases, the devices do not gather data about individual users or citizens. In recent weeks, privacy campaigners have raised concerns about the extent to which contract tracing apps could be used for citizen surveillance purposes as countries emerge from the lockdown.

Some companies have reportedly been adapting smart office technologies for social distancing monitoring, which again could be used for invasive staff surveillance.

The extent to which employees and members of the public will accept such technologies in the wake of the pandemic remains to be seen and is likely to depend on how quickly a vaccine is developed.