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Open source-powered solution developed for COVID-19 response is keeping customers safe at small businesses like Waffle Cabin.

Now that we’re in our third year of Call for Code, I’d say one of the most remarkable things about the program is its constant capacity to surprise me with both its broad reach and agility. Call for Code unites hundreds of thousands of developers to create and deploy applications powered by open source technology that can tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges. Safe Queue is a great example of that, and our eminent judges recently named Safe Queue one of the top five solutions in this year’s Call for Code Global Challenge. Safe Queue was created by a single developer in Los Angeles, Dave Chura, who happened to hear about Call for Code while watching a video from Lady Gaga on his local evening news.

Dave was inspired by Lady Gaga’s call to action and decided to contribute his technological know-how to help support his community’s reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s the fortuitous origin story behind Safe Queue, a solution to replace physical lines at shopping centers, small businesses, and polling places with on-demand virtual lines, to support a safe way to manage entry during COVID-19.

Back in May, Safe Queue was recognized as part of Call for Code’s accelerated COVID-19 submission deadline, and since then my team and I have worked with Dave to strengthen his solution and incorporate feedback from users in a variety of organizations. Safe Queue uses GPS location data to create a virtual queue of those within 1000 feet of a location, allowing employees to control the queue digitally, and validating entry with a randomly generated QR code for each customer. This solution builds on IBM Cloud Foundry for web app hosting, HERE technologies for geolocation, Twilio for SMS messaging, and IBM Cloudant to store geospatial data.

After several development sprints working with Dave and IBM developer advocates to further develop Safe Queue, I’m excited to share the results of how it’s being used by small business employees and customers to keep them safe and reduce wait times during the pandemic.

Safe Queue has been tested by Waffle Cabin, a chain of food service kiosks that began in 1998 and now has 42 locations across 11 states, including several at major ski resorts. In September, I visited the Waffle Cabin at Long Beach in New York, where it is currently in use, and got to see Safe Queue in action with customers.

The app enables Waffle Cabin employees to manage a virtual line of customers. For example, at the Long Beach location in Long Island, customers can use Safe Queue to wait for their turn in a socially distanced location until it’s their turn at the store. This can eliminate the long lines that used to form on the narrow, busy sidewalk, and allow customers to wait in a shady spot nearby, or in the safety of their parked cars —— an outcome that was greatly appreciated by customers and neighbors alike.

“Using Safe Queue to manage lines of customers at our business during this pandemic can be a game-changer,” said Peter Creyf, Waffle Cabin Owner. “Safe Queue is making it possible for us to manage lines of customers safely and efficiently so we can focus on our core business. It’s a way for us to tell our customers that we care about their safety. Even businesses that are not IT savvy can benefit from this free solution. We look forward to expanding our Safe Queue usage across our locations including at ski resorts and events in the months ahead.”

With the help of IBM developer advocates, Safe Queue has received upgrades to its back-end scalability and capacity. Dave has also enhanced the user interface, improved accessibility, and added features based on input from various users that have tested Safe Queue; including disaster relief organizations, voter advocacy groups, and businesses of many sizes. Safe Queue currently has users in Canada, the US, India, Spain, and the UK.

Looking ahead, Safe Queue has the potential to help businesses, nonprofits, and polling places, both as they weather COVID-19 and beyond. The President of the National Ski Area Association has included Safe Queue in their winter “Pandemic Playbook” available to more than 300 ski resorts and 400 ski suppliers across the country. During ski season, Safe Queue could handle lift lines, rental lines, and food services. The recent test with Waffle Cabin in Long Island gave us another view into how the technology best integrates into the customer service flow and simplifies the experience for employees and customers alike. Through feedback from Safe Queue users, we continue to help Dave enhance the solution and turn some of the abstract ideas into valuable features that benefit all types of users.

To learn more about Safe Queue and Call for Code, join us on October 13 for our digital event, the 2020 Call for Code Awards – A Global Celebration of Tech for Good.