Coquitlam man's pandemic invention offers takeout food buffer

Unnamed slider device created by Coquitlam company Unique Fabricated Objects aimed at letting businesses and customers interact safely during pandemic

There’s probably nothing more necessary in this COVID-19 pandemic than keeping people apart to minimize the risk of spreading the respiratory virus.

So Rob Shantz invented a way to make that happen for businesses that are still serving the public. 

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He developed a simple device that enables transactions between two people to occur the recommended two metres distant.

Shantz is the owner of a small Coquitlam fabrication company, UFO, which stands for Unique Fabricated Objects. And when his 81-year-old father told him of his face-to-face encounters at pharmacy counters while picking up prescriptions, he thought there had to be a better, safer way to do that in this time of physical distancing.

The struggles of a friend in the restaurant business to properly transfer takeout orders to his valuable customers reinforced that finding a solution was imperative.

Shantz got to work at his design table, where he normally concocts signs for local businesses or any manner of gizmos out of metal or plastic.

His first idea was a sort of lazy susan to facilitate transferring objects or restaurant meals in a circular fashion. But that was dismissed as too bulky and not practical for situations like a drive-thru window.

The problem, Shantz said, was “how to transfer things across a counter or out a window or at a front door,” while keeping the solution simple and inexpensive — after all, this pandemic crisis is likely only temporary.

Using metal bits and bars already on hand in his workshop off United Boulevard, he devised a sliding tray that can be easily affixed to a table or countertop and operated at a two-metre distance with a simple push rod.

He said he considered a more automated system but haste and cost concerns prevailed.

Shantz said as businesses try to figure out new ways to serve customers safely so they can remain operating, his device — he hasn’t given it a name yet — eliminates the unpredictability of people’s movements as they fall back on habits ingrained their entire lives, like reaching out to grasp a take-out bag.

Shantz said his first prototype at his friend’s restaurant has worked out well and he’s ready to build more for about $250 a pop — just enough to cover the cost of materials and labour.

And if someone wants to adapt Shantz’s design, more power to them, he said. It takes several years to secure a patent and hopefully these strange times of physical distancing will be just a memory by then.

• To learn more about Shantz’s gizmo, go to www.ufosmadehere.ca.

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