One of the ways grocery stores have dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic is to limit the number of shoppers that can physically go into the store at a given time. As a result, people are standing in a very long lines outside some supermarkets as they are spaced a socially distant six feet apart from each other.
Even with social distancing, you’re still surrounded by other people who may or may not be wearing a facemask, depending on where you live it could be hot (or cold), and everyone else in line is probably just as on-edge about the whole situation as you are. But what if you could just stay in the comfort of your own car while you wait your turn? That’s the idea behind Safe Queue, an app borne out of the IBM Call for Code Global Challenge.
Created by Los Angeles-based developer David Chura, Safe Queue is a mobile app that creates virtual lines to gain entrance into stores. Once downloaded, a user puts in the address of the store they want to go to when they are within 1,000 feet of the store, the app places them in a virtual line. A unique QR code is sent to the user along with updates about their place in line. When its (finally) their turn to go in, they present the code to store personnel who scan it for authenticity.
Having this virtual queue could be useful for people with disablities that make it difficult for them to stand for long periods of time, or for people with small children. Or for anyone who just wants grocery shopping to be a little less stressful.
At the same time, Safe Queue, and so many other things about this pandemic, highlights issues around equity and inequality. People with smart phones can wait in their cars, people without are stuck standing in line. And also, how would it work if you have a mix of people just standing in line without the app and people who do have the app. How is the place in line determined then?
Hopefully, these are issues that Chura is working on. There are plans to release Safe Queues as an open source project as well as through the Apple and Google app stores. An IBM spokesperson told me that if enough people downloaded the app, it could be used to create a grass roots-style call for businesses and governments to adopt the virtual line technology. But that seems like a bit of a stretch to me. I’m not sure how many people would download an app that wouldn’t work until enough people adopted it. It seems like something stores would have to embed into their native apps and offer to people (after working through the equity issues).
Having said that, I applaud Chura for his creative thinking in trying to solve a problem people face in this pandemic. Now we’ll just have to see if stores and consumers line up to try Safe Queue out.