Supermarket Model to Guide Safer Shopping Amid Pandemic

A Skoltech team has developed a model for assessing infection risks for supermarket customers. The researchers believe that their model will help formulate scientifically backed rules for safe shopping during the pandemic. The paper was published in PLOS One.

The team included professor Maxim Fedorov, who serves as Skoltech’s Vice President for Artificial Intelligence and Mathematical Modeling, and a research group led by professor Nikolai Brilliantov — the Director of the Skoltech Center for Computational and Data-Intensive Science and Engineering (CDISE).

The composite model presented in the paper incorporates a social forces model that describes customer motions and interactions with other shoppers or obstacles and is known to realistically reproduce waiting lines and congestions in confined spaces, such as stairs, and customers’ behavior during emergency evacuation. The approach is based on calculating several “forces” (see image), each describing a customer’s tendency to maintain a comfortable speed, approach a target, avoid obstacles, etc.

Other components describe the purchasing strategy and retail space layout. Customers are known to behave differently, depending on the place they visit: a small shop, a supermarket, or a cafe. The team used customer behavior scenarios specific to supermarkets and several layouts with varying numbers of intersections and bottleneck widths. Finally, the team proposed a model of infection transmission by virus-containing aerosol droplets.

The researchers used their composite model in multivariate numerical simulations to assess infection risks depending on several factors, such as average customer density, social distancing, behavior scenarios, use of masks, and retail space geometry. It turned out that the infection rate is primarily determined by social distancing, and to a much lesser extent, by the supermarket layout or customer strategy.

Curiously enough, the team discovered that increasing customer density has only a slight positive effect on sales, so filling the store to the limit makes little sense not just epidemiologically but economically, too.

“The functional version of our model, which we have made publicly available, can be used to assess the effects of various factors on the risk of infection. For example, you can optimize a store’s operations in the pandemic environment by controlling customer flow, relocating specific items, and reconfiguring the retail area. Although our selection of layouts did not reveal a noticeable effect of space configuration on infection spread, geometry may be an important factor in other cases,” Alexey Tsukanov, a co-author of the paper, comments.

Source: EurekAlert!

Hate Masks? Try this Space Age Helmet Instead for Safe Air-travel

Lilly Smith wrote . . . . . . . . .

Ground control to Major Tom: Sanitize your hands and put your helmet on. Pandemic gear that looks straight-up celestial has come to Earth.

A new, fully enclosed helmet called Air by Microclimate has been released by Hall Labs, a Utah-based tech, material science, and manufacturing incubator. The helmet looks like what an astronaut might wear to space: Washable black fabric secures it tightly around the neck and attaches to a clear acrylic half-dome, which curves over the face from the back of the head to below the chin. It’s currently available for pre-order for $199, and will ship beginning in mid-October.

Michael Hall, the managing director of Hall Labs, first thought of the idea for a new “wearable” while skiing with his family, according to a Microclimate spokesperson. Hall wasn’t able to see his kids’ faces when covered with ski masks and goggles, and the equipment got wet and cold. So he hatched an idea for this helmet, which creates a “microclimate” around the head. Microclimate then adapted the design when the pandemic hit, the spokesperson says. The company now positions the helmet as a safer and more comfortable way to travel.

The helmet is equipped with a built-in ventilation system powered by fans, so it should be relatively comfy and shouldn’t fog up. Incoming and outgoing airflow is filtered through replaceable HEPA filters, which they say filters 99.97% of particles as small as .03 microns, the same particulate size as an N-95 mask. The helmet weighs about two pounds.

Improvements are in the works, too. The company is further developing the hearing capabilities, which are currently muffled by the fans, according to the website. It’s also looking into adding a straw port so you can drink from your personal bubble. It’s not intended for everyday, medical, or educational use — rather for air travel — and, based on their photos of dudes in suits and peacoats, for young business types specifically. But no need to alert NASA of your plans—this mask is just for air travel here on Earth.

Source : Fast Company

Consumer Safety: Lip Balms Found to Contain Substances Posing Health Risk

Cannix Yau wrote . . . . . . . . .

More of half of lip balm models sold in Hong Kong contained potentially carcinogenic substances, while 80 per cent included mineral oil ingredients that could inflame internal organs, the Consumer Council said on Monday.

The watchdog called on cosmetics manufacturers to review the ingredients in their lip balms and how they are made to reduce the amount of mineral oil aromatic hydrocarbons (MOAH) and mineral oil saturated hydrocarbons (MOSH).

The council tested 45 models, priced between HK$13 and HK$505, and found 23 had MOAH mixtures, with Vaseline Intensive Care Lip Essence (Advanced) containing the highest concentration, at 4.5 per cent.

Some overseas consumer organisations had suggested people minimise exposure to MOAH substances as much as possible, said Dr Lui Wing-cheong, vice-chairman of the council’s research and testing committee.

The manufacturer of Vaseline said its production process included removing all carcinogens from MOAH mixtures, rendering them harmless.

The Consumer Council said 36 models, or 80 per cent of those tested, contained potentially harmful MOSH, including all that claimed to offer sunscreen protection.

MOSH can accumulate in the body and possibly be linked to lipogranulomas – a type of inflammation – in the liver, spleen, lymphatic system and other organs.

“Based on the model detected with the highest amount, in one year of usage one may ingest 10.3 grams of long-chained MOSH substances, an intake amount that gives rise to concern,” Lui said, referring to the structure of mineral oil hydrocarbons, which had either long or short carbon atom chains.

Among the models, five with short-chained MOSH substances failed to limit them to 5 per cent as recommended by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment. The tested model with the highest proportion was Palmers’ Cocoa Butter Formula Ultra Moisturising Lip Balm Sunscreen Stick, at 40.8 per cent.

The long-chained MOSH mixtures in 14 models failed to meet the 10 per cent threshold recommended by the European Consumer Organisation, with QV’s SPF 30 Lip Balm reaching 49.7 per cent.

Lui said people who used such products, as well as children and pregnant women, should avoid using ones with mineral oils as a major ingredient.

Parents should be aware that children might use some flavoured or scented lip balm products often, which could lead to a higher intake of mineral oil substances, he said.

The tests also found that more than 90 per cent – 41 samples – contained fragrance allergens, with five containing elevated levels, ranging from 0.85 per cent to about 2.1 per cent. “Consumers who are allergic to fragrance substances should be more cautious,” Lui said.

The labelling on most models was unsatisfactory, with nine failing to include a detailed list of ingredients.

“The council urged manufacturers to improve product ingredients labels swiftly and enhance information transparency of product composition to allow consumers to make informed choices,” Lui said.

But council chief executive Gilly Wong Fung-han admitted it was difficult to call on Hong Kong authorities to set benchmarks for MOAH and MOSH content in cosmetics as no limits had been established by a recognised global body.

“But we call for manufacturers not to use these substances to produce lip balms. And in terms of labelling, they can do far better,” she said.

Source: SCMP

More Evidence Texting Pedestrians are Accidents Waiting to Happen

Lisa Rapaport wrote . . . . . . . . .

Smartphone users who text while they walk are more prone to accidents than pedestrians who just listen to music or talk on their phones, a research review suggests.

Compared to people who didn’t text while walking, those who did appeared to look left and right less often before crossing streets, the analysis found. Texting was also associated with higher odds that pedestrians would bump into other people or things in their paths or experience near-misses.

“Smartphone use that takes a pedestrian’s eyes off the traffic environment has a higher potential safety cost than activities that do not curtail scanning,” said study co-author Jeff Caird of the University of Calgary in Canada.

“Turning on ‘do not disturb’ while walking may allow pedestrians to reflect and be aware of their environment,” Caird said by email.

For the analysis, researchers examined data from 14 experimental studies assessing the impact of smartphone use on pedestrian safety. Altogether, these smaller studies involved 872 pedestrians.

The smaller studies typically included simulations designed to mimic what pedestrians might experience while walking down a sidewalk or crossing a street. Simulations had features such as curb-like platforms and treadmills with projection systems to duplicate what people might see on a street.

Participants were asked to perform a variety of street-crossing tasks multiple times during simulations, repeating the activities without a smartphone and while occupied by a variety of smartphone activities like texting, talking, browsing the web or listening to music.

Texting was associated with higher rates of near-misses in collision analyses compared with listening to music or talking on the phone, researchers report in Injury Prevention.

Texting and browsing the web on a phone were also tied to slight increases in the time it took to start crossing the street.

Talking on the phone was associated with a small increase in the time taken to start crossing the road and slightly more missed opportunities to cross the road safely.

One limitation of the analysis is that simulation results might not necessarily reflect what happens on city streets. Another drawback is the potential for people to use phones differently in lab settings than they would normally.

Even so, the results add to evidence already suggesting that smartphones can distract pedestrians and contribute to injuries, said David Schwebel, a researcher at the University of Alabama at Birmingham who wasn’t involved in the study.

“The message for all of us is that we should cross the street undistracted,” Schwebel said by email. “We should treat pedestrian street-crossing just like we treat driving: put the smartphone aside when engaging in traffic.”

If people can’t help using the phone while they’re walking along busy sidewalks, they should still have the good sense to pause what they’re doing and look up from their screens when they need to cross the street, Schwebel said.

“Don’t cross the street while using your smartphone,” Schwebel added. “Put the phone in your pocket or purse or even just in your hand and start using it again when you’re safely on the sidewalk – or better still, sitting on a park bench.”

Source: Reuters

Robotic Cattle Driver Helps To Improve Worker Safety

Esther Honig wrote . . . . . . . . .

Brad Churchill, a slaughter operations manager at Cargill Meat Solutions, has worked in the cattle industry for more than 30 years — and has seen many employee injuries caused by livestock.

“A young man did nothing to provoke this 1,600-pound Angus steer who turned on him in an instant,” Churchill said of one incident last year. The man crawled through an escape hatch, and ended up with a dislocated shoulder and few fractured ribs.

Working with cattle is dangerous: The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2017, cattle injured 1,360 workers. And those attacks can sometimes be fatal.

So, when Churchill first saw a video of a robot, developed by a Russian tech company for security purposes, it gave him an idea.

Cargill redesigned the robot, giving it a tough metal exterior and options for customization depending on the needs of the operation. For instance, an MP3 player can relay recordings of whistles to help drive animals forward, much like a human would do. For dairies, where cows tend to be older, Churchill said an air blower could be installed to gently tickle their haunches. The robot was tested at plants in Nebraska and Pennsylvania.

“Once we tested it and knew that we could move cattle with it, then I knew that we could keep our people out of the line of fire with these animals,” Churchill said. He thinks the robot might also be used for moving other animals — such as turkeys and hogs — though no such testing has taken place yet at Cargill.

Robotics are becoming increasingly common in dairy and feedlot operations, said David Douphrate, an expert in agricultural worker safety at the University of Texas Health Science Center. That’s in part because the work is dangerous, and finding workers to fill jobs is challenging.

“I think that we will see more adoption of robotic technology in livestock production. It all comes down to cost and benefit,” he said. According to Cargill, the robotic cattle driver costs up to $50,000.

Douphrate thinks the concept is promising. Because the robot is operated remotely, workers no longer have to walk behind the animals, where they’re vulnerable to kicks and attacks.

“Anytime that you can eliminate, or even substitute, that task with modern technology, it’s a good thing,” he said.

Source: npr