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Concerned about social distancing? Satellite technology and AI can help with that


Concerned about social distancing? Satellite technology and AI can help with that.

A UK start-up company Lanterne, has developed a free app that will help us observe ‘social distancing’ more effectively in our collective effort to break the transmission rate of the coronavirus, and ultimately save lives.

The ‘Crowdless’ app will help people make informed decisions and navigate more safely as they carry out their essential tasks, providing real-time live data on the busyness of essential places that people need to visit, such as supermarkets and pharmacies. 

At the European Space Agency Business Incubation Centre United Kingdom (ESA BIC UK), the company is using GPS satellite data and AI technologies, in combination with data available from Google and crowdsourced information, to inform users in real time whether essential destinations are busy. The technology will enable people to decide whether or not it is a good time to visit these places, and if one is particularly crowded, users are presented with less crowded alternatives nearby. 

Crowdless is the brainchild of Lanterne co-founders Sebastian Mueller, Alex Barnes and Yohan Iddawela who were already using satellite technology at the ESA BIC UK to help people in conflict zones to navigate safely.

Yohan Iddawela said: "The mission of our social enterprise, Lanterne, is to use data to improve safety and promote economic development. As a result, we wanted to see what we could do with our skillset to help people out at such a trying time. We decided we could build a free platform to help people with social distancing. 

“Crowdless provides live data on the crowdedness of places so that you can choose the best place and the best time to visit while maintaining social distance. This includes supermarkets, pharmacies, parks, doctors and pet stores. Our hope is that this can help people observe social distancing more effectively, stay safe, and play a part in slowing down the infection rate of COVID-19. We’re also committed to ensuring that this remains 100% free for everyone to use.

“Having gone from idea to working prototype in the space of three days, we’re now at the launch stage. We wouldn’t be where we are without the support we’ve received from the ESA BIC UK and we’ve benefitted significantly from their funding, networks and expertise. They’re actively supporting small businesses to address some of the challenges posed by Covid-19, so we couldn’t be working in a better place."

Managed and co-funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) through the UK Space Agency, the ESA BIC UK is a successful business incubation programme for space tech start-ups who are using space and satellite technologies to develop new products. Since opening almost ten years ago, it has helped 85 start-up companies turn their brilliant ideas into viable products and services.

STFC’s Dr Sue O’Hare, Operations Manager for the ESA BIC UK, said: “Lanterne is a magnificent example of how space and satellite technologies can be used and adapted to create globally game-changing ways to help the world in the war against COVID-19.  The UK is the leading funder in Europe for space business applications, and I’m thrilled that STFC, through the ESA BIC UK, has provided Lanterne with the right technologies and support it needed to develop this ground-breaking, and ultimately life-saving technology.”


About the ESA BIC UK

With three business incubation sites at Harwell, Daresbury and Edinburgh, the ESA BIC UK is part of a growing network of successful ESA BICs across Europe.

Companies that join the ESA BIC UK benefit from access to STFC’s world class expertise and technical facilities, dedicated business support, and incentive funding.

Find further information about the ESA BIC UK, and support for businesses at STFC more generally, at the website or at @ESABICUK.

The Science and Technology Facilities Council

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) is part of UK Research and Innovation – the UK body which works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities, and government to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish.

STFC funds and supports research in particle and nuclear physics, astronomy, gravitational research and astrophysics, and space science and also operates a network of five national laboratories as well as supporting UK research at a number of international research facilities including CERN, FERMILAB, the ESO telescopes in Chile and many more.

Visit stfc.ukri.org for more information. @STFC_Matters

About Lanterne and ‘Crowdless’

Crowdless is a free platform designed to help people with social distancing. It provides real-time data on how crowded essential places of interest are (e.g. supermarkets). This allows people to choose less busy times and less crowded stores to visit, adhere to governmental social distancing guidelines, and ultimately save lives. 

Lanterne is an award-winning social enterprise that uses data to improve safety and promote economic development. We've received support and funding from the European Space Agency's Business Incubation Centre UK managed by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (part of UK Research and Innovation), the University of Oxford, the London School of Economics, and Santander Universities. 


Wendy Ellison

STFC Communications

Daresbury Laboratory

Science and Technology Facilities Council

Tel: 01925 603232


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