Covid-19 Horizon Scan 2: Sanitisation and Social Distancing

In this issue we note the increasing visibility of, and interest, in nano-coating products with longer term durability and effectiveness. We also see that rail organisations are now beginning the process of technology product selection and pilot deployments to address sanitisation and social distancing issues.

This raises important issues for further consideration:

  • how organisations are approaching the integration of such products into their existing range of Covid-19 related emergency technology responses
  • whether and how these technologies may become permanent rather than temporary
  • what financial and operational considerations are most important for an organisation in order to adopt and use these technologies on a sustainable basis going forward.

This scanning initiative is based on an open and collaborative approach. We welcome contributions from others in GB rail who are actively working on these issues or who identify items which they think would be of relevance. Contributing organisations will be indicated in forthcoming editions. Please contact Guy Yeomans (Principal – Horizon Scanning) for further details.

Our thanks to Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) for providing additional information for this issue.


Items related to GB Rail and Rail responses from other countries are supported by a simple key which seeks to identify the area(s) for which the technology or stated response is most applicable:

  • MAINTENANCE (OS) – Open spaces, such as construction sites
  • MAINTENANCE (CS) – Closed spaces, such as depots.


Hand sanitisation

Responses from GB rail 

GTR uses 30-day Coronavirus killer to further protect passengers and colleagues

Govia Thameslink Railway has treated its entire fleet across Southern, Thameslink, Great Northern and Gatwick Express trains, plus stations and staff areas, with a powerful new virucide. It sticks to surfaces, killing the Coronavirus for up to 30 days. As part of its current enhanced cleaning regime, GTR already sanitises all its 2,700 train carriages every night. The new virucide will be used on “all surfaces” across their network on a 21-day cycle.

The introduction of the 30-day virucide is part of a package of new sanitisation measures. This includes a specially developed app which tells staff at a glance when each train carriage was last cleaned with the long-lasting virucide, complemented by the deployment of additional sanitisation backpacks and hand sanitisers.

GTR has worked with a microbiologist, and recognises that virucide products work in different ways. The dual-use approach aims to provide a greater level of safety assurance for passengers and staff, and enable the testing and development of sustainable, longer-term operational cleaning processes.



Invisi Smart molecular-nanocoating sanitisation product

Invisi Smart  has a new molecular-nanocoating product, ‘Shield’. Originally developed to serve the healthcare market, Invisi Smart is now looking to expand into the transport and rail sectors.

Shield leverages the antimicrobial action of photocatalytic oxidants (TiO2 / titanium dioxide) to achieve a claimed 99.99% reduction in bacterial contamination within six hours of exposure. It is non-toxic and can be sprayed onto any surface, drying within 15 minutes. It offers up to one year of protection even after general or routine cleaning.

Rail Technology Magazine (Episode #11 of Track Talk podcast) – 28 May 2020 | TRAINS / STATIONS / MAINTENANCE (CL)

Responses from other sectors

NANOTECHNOLOGY – EnvisionSQ nanotechnology-based photocatalytic disinfectant

EnvisionSQ and the University of Guelph have reformulated an existing product specifically to help combat Covid-19. They state the NanoCleanSQ disinfectant coating can kill viruses, bacteria and fungi (including Covid-19) with more than 99.9999% efficiency on contact. It is long-lasting and bonds to any surface or material. It can withstand exposure to moisture and will continue working whether the surface is wet or dry; it is suitable for both indoor and outdoor use. Exposure to light activates a second photocatalytic ingredient, enhancing its effectiveness.

NanoClean - Conceptual illustration

Air Quality News – 15 May 2020

NANOTECHNOLOGY - New anti-Covid-19 nanocoating surface developed

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) researchers are developing safe anti-viral nanoparticle coatings. These demonstrate significant potential in preventing active surface infection with Covid-19. The new coating could be used in hospitals and healthcare facilities, as well as public locations such as schools, airports, trains, buses and cruise ships, where it was shown that the active virus lasted 17 days on some surfaces.

Nano – 12 May 2020

PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT - New design helps N95 mask wearers breathe easier

High-grade filter masks, such as N95 respirators, are recognised for their effectiveness at preventing virus transmission. However, they can also reduce the amount of available oxygen to the wearer by up to 20 percent. This can lead to feelings of physical and mental discomfort over time, and may demotivate the wearer to use it, or prompt unsafe actions, such as mask readjustment, in environments within which users are at risk of infection. 

To address this, Stanford University is developing a portable device that pumps pure oxygen directly to the wearer. Using electrochemical processes and oxygen concentration, the envisioned device would be a small box worn on the waist, with a tube connection directly to the mask. The device will be designed to fit all N95 masks. Additional benefits include filtering out carbon dioxide and reducing humidity, and improving temperature control and comfort for the wearer.

Scientific American – 26 May 2020

AIRPORTS - Hong Kong Airport Installs Full-Body Disinfecting Booths

Hong Kong airport has installed CleanTech sanitisation pods, which are full-body disinfection facilities. They check the passenger’s temperature prior to entering (the door to the pod will only open if you don’t have an elevated fever); once inside the pod there is a 40-second disinfection and sanitising procedure. The booths use photocatalysis (a UV-based disinfection method) to kill viruses and bacteria on the body, and apply a disinfectant sanitising spray to treat clothing and carry-on items.

AFAR – 1 May 2020

AUTOMOTIVE - Ford uses car heating system to sanitise vehicles

Ford has created a software patch which modifies engine and onboard climate controls to self-sterilize a vehicle interior in just 15 minutes. Working with Ohio State University, Ford confirmed that a temperature of 132.8°F for 15 minutes would reduce viral concentrations by more than 99% on surfaces and in the air. A properly functioning car heater blows air that’s around 130°F. The software update temporarily overrides the inbuilt safety protocol, generating the higher temperatures.

The patch is currently being installed on New York City police vehicles. Ford’s director of passenger vehicles and SUVs has suggested it could work in most cars on the market, with the right retrofitting, though the article also describes the update as a ‘hack’. If the solution can be made more robust, judged as appropriately safe, and is produced at scale, it may have implications for car-based mobility services such as ride-sharing companies.

Fast Company – 29 May 2020

SURFACES RESEARCH – The surfaces that kill bacteria and viruses

Surfaces can impact the likelihood of Covid-19 transmission, with different materials demonstrating a range of active contamination durations. This article comments on a number of early research projects and innovations which aim to alter the material composition and design of surfaces. For example, using lasers or nanopillars creates a more rugged texture that increases the surface area. This improves the material’s ability to prevent bacteria and viruses from being able to settle and grow, and so reduces contamination risks.

The article highlights new materials being considered, such as copper, titanium and titanium alloys, and plant extracts like cork and hops. It also mentions two new products based on these design principles: Sharklet, a plastic sheeting material that mimics sharkskin; and MicroShield 360, a coating which has been applied to surfaces within airplanes, such as seats, to keep them free of bacteria.

BBC – 1 June 2020

BUS / TRANSPORT - Virus hygiene scanning technology for bus and transport launched in Australia

A new scanning and sensor technology called RollCall Services enables cleaning staff to 'scan in', recording in real-time when and where buses, vehicles and locations have been cleaned. The technology works through a combination of the scanning device and the placement of small sensors at each location or vehicle. for which verification of cleaning is required. The product aims to help firms manage, schedule and confirm that their premises and vehicles have been cleaned, while providing a digital auditable record.

Australian Bus & Coach – 14 May 2020

SWITZERLAND – Clean and Safe campaign and protection guidance

Switzerland Tourism have launched a campaign and light touch certification scheme under the ‘Clean and Safe’ banner. This aggregates sanitation measure guidance and protection instructions from a variety of sectors, including public transport. While not based on the description and use of technologies, it serves a valuable function in promoting sanitisation certification and standards.  It is part of a large-scale communications campaign encouraging public reassurance through both the provision of information and the use of visual icons and stickers.

Social distancing

Social distancing 

Responses from GB rail 

GTR uses Siemens technology for social distancing on trains

GTR and Siemens Mobility have developed a new passenger tracking technology which can indicate the number of passengers who board and deboard trains at each station. This monitors demand and supports social distancing guidelines. The technology collects the data, which  is fed to the Cloud-based Advanced Passenger Loading reporting. This provides immediate information to GTR, enabling them to perform timetable reviews, assess optimal train lengths or decide to add other services.

GTR and Siemens Mobility developed and adapted the solution in just 14 days. Based on its effectiveness, GTR indicates that it plans to use the tool as a permanent part of its future network management operations.

Railway Technology – 2 June 2020 | TRAINS / STATIONS

UrbanThings - Grant to develop public transport social distancing technology

UrbanThings is a UK-based technology company specialising in intelligent mobility. It has received grant funding from Innovate UK to develop a coronavirus social distancing and contact tracing platform for public transport operators.

It aims to make travel safer for passengers, by providing data to transport operators to enforce social distancing measures so they can adjust their fleet capacity to meet demand. UrbanThings’ existing mobility platform will have a new module to capture live anonymous information, from a range of sources. It will combine this information, creating a live and historic occupancy data per vehicle or carriage. The system will predict how crowded a vehicle is likely to be upon arrival at a stop or station, and also on departure. Passengers will benefit from knowing how many people are likely to get off.

Development work will start in June for three months. UrbanThings are seeking partnership opportunities with transport operators and are in early-stage discussions regarding a potential pilot development for rail.

Railway Gazette – 25 May 2020 | TRAINS / STATIONS

Rail responses from other countries

BELGIUM - AI tools help Infrabel to maintain social distancing

Infrabel plans to introduce a series of artificial intelligence tools on a pilot basis to assess how far social distancing measures are being applied. Areas of focus are likely to include checking whether staff are keeping the requisite distance apart, whether face masks are being worn, and if they are being worn correctly. A typical installation would use CCTV cameras linked to an AI engine which checks a series of parameters in real time. Other social distancing measures being deployed by Infrabel include wrist or helmet-mounted bracelets fitted with ultra-wideband transmitters.

Railway Gazette International – 26 May 2020 | TRAINS / STATIONS

Responses from other sectors

HEALTH RESEARCH – Physical distancing, face masks, and eye protection: a systematic review and meta-analysis

The WHO and the Lancet have published a new meta-analysis of observational studies across Covid-19, SARS and MERS. These investigate the optimum distance for avoiding person-to-person virus transmission, and assess the use of face masks and eye protection to prevent transmission of viruses.

The Lancet – 1 June 2020

TRANSPORT - Tools to support social distancing

Delft University of Technology comments on the use of sensors and demand management. The article, framed within a Mobility as a Service approach, calls for the use of sensor, demand management and real-time information technologies to support changes in passenger mobility demands and social distancing. The article calls for a more systematic approach to understanding travel activities.

Delft University of Technology – 8 May 2020

URBAN MANAGEMENT - Wave-themed social distancing signage system introduced in Paris

Design group Studio 5.5 have developed a new social distancing signage system to help pedestrians navigate safely through Paris. The system has been customised to reflect local cultural and identify themes, encouraging people to respect distancing rules without causing anxiety and fear.

Urban Management image

Image taken from:

designboom – 26 May 2020

EPIDEMOLOGY MODELLING - A mathematical framework could help safely ease social distancing

The University of Queensland is developing a new mathematical framework that mimics the spread of a virus using mobile phone technology, which could lead to safer and more effective easing of social distancing. “Safe Blues” exchanges anonymous digital ‘tokens’ between phones, acting like a contagious disease spreading in the population. It allows policymakers to see how social behaviours and distancing policy adjustments work in real time. Researchers advising governments in Australia, France, Finland, Uruguay, Argentina, and Slovakia have already shown interest.

University of Queensland – 6 May 2020

AIRPORTS - Airports are embracing new social distancing technology

Miami International Airport (MIA) is introducing a new motion analytics technology called “Safe Distance” which tracks the movement of people, their distance apart and how long they are in proximity for. The technology creates a ‘traffic lights’ score on areas of the airport, viewable through a mobile phone dashboard. This enables a range of control measures to be initiated, such as controlling the amount of people in line, increasing signage and audio announcements, or moving people to a different line altogether.

MIA are considering making the data publicly available to passengers to help guide their own behaviour or actions. The developers of Safe Distance indicate it could be used in other crowded spaces such as train stations and shopping areas.

Fox News – 30 May 2020

MANUFACTURING / LOGISTICS - Technology Steps Forward for Social Distancing

The Siemens real-time location systems (RTLS) is a technology which helps maintain social distancing between employees. RTLS uses active tags (meaning they have their own energy source), establishing their position through triangulation of their signal with receiving gateway antennas. The transponders can determine distances down to a foot, ensuring that employees are maintaining safe social distances. The tags can be set up to start a timer when employees get within six feet of one another; the company can decide how long that timer goes before calling it a violation. The data can also be used for ‘hotspot analysis’ to determine areas in the physical environment that impede the flow of people or cause them to congregate for longer than desired.

Automation World – 28 May 2020

WEARABLES - Tharsus announces new wearable social distancing technology

Blyth-based robotics company, Tharsus, has announced the development of Bump. This is a new technology system designed to help keep people safe in the workplace during the Covid-19 pandemic. Bump’s technology uses wearable and static devices that communicate with one another using Radio Frequency (RF) technology. It uses this to create a Personal Motion System, which issues proximity alerts based on social distancing guidelines. Bump technology is being trialled at construction sites, manufacturing and distribution centres, and warehouses. It could also be used in office environments. Tharsus hopes to release the Bump device for commercial sale later in June.

Net Times Magazine – 15 May 2020

MOBILE AUGMENTED REALITY - Google Sodar helps Android smartphone users maintain social distancing

The Google Sodar tool, developed for Android smartphones, uses augmented reality technology via the phone camera. It places the user at the centre of a white circle superimposed on the user’s surroundings, representing a two metre radius.  It adapts in real time to position changes.

Gadgets 360 – 30 May 2020

Haven’t found what you’re looking for?
Get in touch with our Principal – Horizon Scanning expert for further information.
Guy Yeomans
Tel: 020 3142 5627
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