Tech firm Lenovo has teamed up with the University of North Carolina to deliver an artificial intelligence (AI) technology solution designed to create a safer live event experience during the COVID-19 pandemic.

UNC’s Reese Innovation Lab designed and engineered the new Health Greeter Kiosks to encourage anyone passing the devices to wear masks and practice social distancing. The technology was trialled at the UNC-Virginia Tech football game on October 10, and again for the October 24 game against NC State.

The AI, specifically computer vision and machine learning, uses real time data from a depth-sensing camera to detect if someone is wearing a mask and whether there is proper spacing between individuals. As people walk by these strategically placed kiosks, a large display alerts them to correct or continue their behaviour.

At the trial game, attended by around 3,000 spectators, the Reese Innovation Lab team installed kiosks at key locations around Kenan Memorial Stadium, including bag check lines, ticket booths and entrances. UNC said “the technology worked as intended, tracking and encouraging safe behaviour”.

UNC added that the fully anonymised data — with no images saved or transmitted – could help shape safety protocol and provide insight on how crowds behave during the ongoing pandemic.

“We needed real innovation to meet this unprecedented challenge, and pushing the limits of technology is at the core of our Lab’s mission,” said Steven King, the chief innovation officer of the Reese Innovation Lab.

“Engineering a technological response to COVID-19 and event attendance restarting is a real and rewarding challenge, I’m grateful for the support of UNC-Chapel Hill leadership, our exceptional and inventive students, and Lenovo.”

UNC added that the kiosks not only encourage compliance with UNC COVID policies, but they also provide valuable 3D spatial data that may be used with machine learning to inform better and safer crowd flow when students return to campus and public gatherings increase in size and scope.

“This is an exciting and important application of smarter technology and smarter IT infrastructure out of our AI Innovation Center, where we focus on engineering holistic solutions that go beyond any single device,” said Matthew Zielinski, president of Lenovo North America.

“We are thrilled to collaborate with Steven and his team at UNC-Chapel Hill, sharing our technology and expertise with their ingenuity to help maintain guest safety at live events during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Image: UNC Reese Innovation Lab