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Oxford student launches app to help social distancing

An Oxford doctoral student has co-designed an app to help users practise social distancing by locating crowded areas in their neighbourhood, which can then be avoided. 

The app, Crowdless, uses real-time data, both crowdsourced and taken from existing sources such as Google Maps, to provide information on how busy they are. It aims to encourage safe social distancing by advising the public on when to visit supermarkets and other public places.

Launched on 20th April, the app was developed by Lanterne, a UK-based social enterprise co-founded by Sebastian Müller, Yohan Iddawela, and Alex Barnes, a doctoral student at Oxford. 

All three specialise in conflict technology, and the app had originally been conceived as a way of helping those living in conflict zones avoid danger, but the COVID-19 pandemic led them to shift their focus towards encouraging the public to safely follow government regulations. 

The highest number of users are based in Germany and Spain, and they aim to reach 100,000 weekly users around the world within the next three months.

The app was developed with the support of Oxford Foundry, an organisation set up in 2017 with the aim of supporting Oxford students and alumni in their entrepreneurial endeavours. Last year, Lanterne won the best post-graduate idea award at the Foundry’s All-Innovate competition, and in March of this year the enterprise was presented at the Oxford Saïd Entrepreneurship Forum. 

Lanterne has been featured on the Foundry’s website as one of 13 ventures who are actively responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, all of whom are being supported as part of the Foundry’s OXFO COVID-19 Action Plan. 

As a GDPR compliant app, it does not collect users’ personal information and adheres to data privacy protection standards. The information provided is collected on an opt-in basis, using only the most relevant results. The enterprise works closely with Adapt to ensure that data protection standards are met.

Alex Barnes said: “Our plans to roll out our core product — an app to help people navigate safely in conflict areas — were heavily disrupted by the COVID-19 outbreak. We were keen to see what we could do to help in the current circumstances, and we came up with Crowdless. We think it will be extremely useful for people who need to travel to shops and grocery stores but are trying to do social distancing effectively to protect themselves and the wider population.”

The app is available for free on Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store. 

Image courtesy of Lanterne Ltd.

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