Launching a new Covid-19 project, co-funded by Innovate UK

Innovate UK is investing up to £20 million to support UK businesses to focus on the emerging needs of society and industries following the Covid-19 pandemic.

Body Aspect are one of 700+ successful organisations to receive funding and our project will create a virtual reality tool for investigating social distancing in public places. We are starting with the specific activity of supermarket shopping but hope to eventually include other retail settings and public places.

Previous studies have attempted to model how a virus spreads; for example how aerosol particles can spread and dilute when an infected person coughs. Our approach will complement such studies by examining how changes to store layout might affect the social distancing objective. The power of virtual reality will enable us to experiment with alternative store configurations and simulate the shopping experience in a safe and controlled manner.

We are starting by looking at grocery stores and supermarkets because even at the height of the pandemic people need to buy food. In normal circumstances store layouts are designed to encourage customers to take a circuitous route around the store. However, the experience of the pandemic has drawn our attention to customer safety and brings increased pressure on supermarkets to incorporate this into their longer term thinking.

Stores have responded by introducing some relatively superficial changes such as limiting numbers in store, floor markings and one-way systems; but are these measures enough to ensure that every customer can complete their shopping without coming within 2 metres of another person? We already know the answer to that question, so we will be looking at whether more substantial changes, such as alternative store layouts, could help to achieve the desired goal.

Finally, although we are very much focused on supermarkets at the outset, we do hope to extend the project to incorporate the social distancing challenges faced by other retailers, with different operating parameters, and key public services such as transport.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

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