Instead of waiting in the long lines that stretch around your local grocery store during the pandemic—and hoping that the somewhat arbitrary six-foot rule for social distancing protects you from the customer coughing behind you—it may soon be easier to wait in a virtual line. A new app, Safe Queue, is designed to allow stores to manage the flow of customers digitally, so that customers can wait inside their cars or in a nearby park until it’s time to shop.
“I thought somebody should fix this,” says developer Dave Chura, who decided to create the app for IBM’s Call for Code Global Challenge. The app, which is one of three winning solutions in the challenge, is GPS-based and knows when you’re within 1,000 feet of a store with the technology enabled. “As soon as you get close enough, you simply tap on a big green indicator and it puts you in the Safe Queue line, a virtual line,” Chura says. “And then you can park your car or go someplace that you think is safe far away from the store.”
Stores will manage their lines through the app, and customers will get a notification when they’re at the front of the line. Both customers and grocery store workers will get more protection from one another. “The folks who are working at these stores are probably better off if you are waiting far away as well, so they don’t have to endure lots of people around during their long shifts,” Chura says. As more stores begin to reopen and the six-foot economy expands, the app can also be used at other retailers, and it eventually could be used at locations such as polling places.
The technology is similar to existing apps that restaurants use to manage customers waiting for tables—for instance, Waitwhile, which is now working with some grocery stores to manage lines in a similar way. But it doesn’t require anyone to register to use the service. “You don’t have to sign up. You don’t have to register. You don’t have to provide any information at all,” Chura says. “In fact, you just have to go near the store. It’s really anonymous. And I’m a strong privacy advocate. So making it anonymous was important to me.”
He also wants the service to be free, so there are no barriers to using it. IBM is helping Chura with the final steps of submitting the app to the App Store and Google Play and connecting with major retailers that most need it now, so that it can be available as quickly as possible.