Marketing, sports data apps join fight against pandemic

Toyobo's staff shows the 'COCOMI' clothing, which can acquire physiological information data of the person who wears it, during its demonstration at the Wearable Expo in Tokyo, Japan, January 20, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

TOKYO (Reuters) - Devices designed for improving customer marketing and sports performance are now being used in the fight against COVID-19 as companies deploy their technologies to meet new needs during the pandemic.

Hitachi-LG Data Storage originally developed its 3D LiDAR People Counter sensor for retail stores to track shoppers' movements and analyse data in order to improve sales and customer satisfaction.

The company, a joint venture between Japan's Hitachi and South Korea's LG Electronics, has now paired the application with a heat detection and camera app that takes customers' temperatures and checks if they are wearing a mask with a facial detection system.

The technology monitors the number of people and their movements to reduce congestion and it estimates wait times at cash registers, to help reduce infection risks. It can also determine whether or not a customer has stopped by a specific area such as a required hand sanitizer station.

It comes as retailers seek to create a safe environment and restore peace of mind to the in-store experience as fears of infection have driven customers away during the pandemic.

"It was often used for marketing before but recently it has been used in various places for unmanned stores. Since the coronavirus the number of unmanned stores has increased quite a lot," Norimoto Ichikawa, head of Hitachi-LG Data Storage's software development team, told Reuters at the annual Wearables Expo in Tokyo.

Union Tool, exhibiting at the same trade show, said it was hoping to market its wearable heart sensor for applications including as a monitoring device for COVID-19 patients at quarantine hotels.

The sensor, which can remotely monitor a person's heart rate and temperature, is now used for health management and collection of biometric data for sports and exercise.

Union Tool is teaming with Toyobo for the sensor to be used with the latter's stretchable conductive film for wearable devices and used in clothing.

"If the number of patients increases in the future and more people will need to be quarantined at home or hotel, I think there's a possibility that such sensors can be used to remotely monitor people's condition in real time," said Naoki Jimbo, head of Union Tool's sales and marketing department.

(Reporting by Akira Tomoshige and Mayu Yoshida; Writing by Chris Gallagher; Editing by Kim Coghill)

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