Upload - In the spotlight – an interview with Pathfindr


09 July 2020

Pathfindr provides award-winning Industrial IoT solutions for indoor and outdoor asset tracking and monitoring. Since the country went into lockdown, the company has rapidly developed and launched a new product to help people maintain safe personal distancing.

Founder and CTO, Ben Sturgess, and Managing Director, Matt Isherwood, discuss their products, dealing with the media and managing a new product launch during a pandemic.

Matt, can you tell us about your Safe Distancing Assistant and how it might help a business to operate during the pandemic?

Matt: Each SDA continuously scans for other units in the area and measures the distance between them every half a second. When any of the devices come within two metres, an audible or vibrating alert goes off and will continue until the users increase the distance between them to above two metres.

We all have personal experience of knowing how difficult it is to remain aware of the distance around us at all times; it’s tricky in places such as a supermarket. When people are concentrating in the workplace, they need all the help they can get to maintain a safe distance, so our device is designed to do just that. If we can help businesses to demonstrate they are doing everything they can to create safe and healthy working environments, then they can remain operational and, importantly, minimise the risk of virus transmission.

Ben, does the new product use your existing technology or did it require a lot of new development? How were you able to launch it so quickly?

Ben: The SDA uses our existing accurate Ultra Wide Band distancing solution that we use in our indoor and outdoor asset tracking product, but it’s a new hardware and software design optimised for this use case. This new product had to be designed, prototyped, tested and prepared for large scale production, all in a few weeks. How did we do it so quickly? An amazingly talented and dedicated team, combined with gallons of coffee and very little sleep!

Matt, we first heard about the Safe Distancing Assistant on Sky News – how did that come about and what has the impact of the media coverage been for you?

Matt: We’re fortunate to be part of a larger group of companies, and one of them is a B2B PR specialist called Speed Communications. Speed help us with media contacts and they arranged for Sky News to visit our Norwich office to see how we developed the SDA. That evening they wrote a short piece for the Sky News website and overnight we had a huge spike in enquiries and orders! The SDA was subsequently picked up by other media across Europe and USA. I was even interviewed for the breakfast show on Fox TV Orlando. A very surreal but enjoyable experience!

Ben, we understand that this isn’t your first experience of dealing with the media – is it true that the business started when you worked on the BBC’s Secret Life of Cats program? How have you managed to adapt your technology to take you from tracking cats, to aerospace applications and now to social distancing?

Ben: We actually started in retail indoor navigation for supermarkets, then Cats, then jet engines! So yes it certainly has been a very interesting journey, with a huge amount of product evolution over the last three years. At each turn we have been passionate about providing innovative and best in class technology solutions, we pride ourselves not only on our core asset tracking product but also our ability to adapt and tailor custom IoT solutions for our client’s individual business challenges.

Matt, you have managed to not only keep the business going lockdown but to develop and launch a new product. What are the biggest challenges the pandemic has thrown at you and how have you managed them?

Matt: Thankfully, we didn’t experience too many headaches setting up remote working and operations for the team. Developing a new product at such speed will always be challenging, but doing so during lockdown made the supply chain of components incredibly difficult to manage. From a business perspective, the pandemic means it’s almost impossible to confidently create a sales forecast for the remainder of the year. We just can’t predict the full impact of COVID-19 on the market. Our products help businesses to be more efficient and save money – which will be important to many – but will they
have the budget to invest in new technology?

Final question. Ben, have you been following the development of the Test and Trace app? What are your thoughts?

Ben: When we first started the project we looked at bluetooth based social distancing, but after extensive testing in the first week we quickly discounted it. The issue with bluetooth based distancing is that it’s based on the signal strength to determine distance. This makes it very unreliable for short range accurate distancing as there are so many variables in play including the environment, where you carry your phone, and hundreds of different phone antenna designs. The fact that the best engineers in the world at Apple and Google can’t find a reliable solution says a lot. I wish Mr Hancock would had messaged me in March, I could have saved him £12m!

Thanks go to Ben and Matt for taking the time out of their hectic schedule to share their thoughts and experience with us. More information about the Safe Distancing Assistant can be found on Pathfindr’s website.

This article is from the July 2020 issue of Upload, our monthly newsletter for professionals with an interest in technology. To download the latest issue, please visit the newsletter section of our website. For further information please contact a member of Birketts' Technology Team.

The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at July 2020.