As professionals in the emerging tech space, we are well aware of the many benefits of the Internet of Things (IoT), augmented and virtual reality (AR, VR), artificial intelligence (AI), and drones and robotics. Therefore, we cannot help but wonder: What if most of the emerging technologies were widely available already now that we are going through the COVID-19 pandemic? How much different the fight would be today?
If anything, they would have kept us better prepared to combat the virus outbreak and go through it with minimum sacrifices of our jobs and daily lives. We have identified ten such Applications that can help humanity progress today and in the coming months or years.
Let’s see case by case:
Work From Home/Study From Home
Of course, we have many tools for teleconferences, such as Zoom, Webex, Microsoft Teams. However, if we engage only online for many months then the experience could become boring, disengaging, and even depressing.
VR would provide a significant improvement in the experience. Holding meetings in virtual environments would help us engage with colleagues and collaborate efficiently.
Staying fit while staying inside the house is also a bet for VR, just imagine being in a virtual class of yoga with other connected members. Currently, there are several headsets available at an affordable price already, however, the content and software are not there yet and, because we are still in the pre-5G era, the VR experience would be inferior to what’s possible with 5G.
Technical Expertise for Maintenance or Problem-Solving
Ideally, engineers and technicians should avoid traveling and visiting factories, remote areas or crowded places as they risk becoming infected by the virus. However, their physical presence is required on-site while they cannot get away with manually controlling the necessary equipment.
IoT, through the use of special sensors installed in machinery, and augmented reality, through overlays in the real world and remote guidance provision by experts, can help resolve maintenance issues, perform machine control remotely and AI can even predict when machines need maintenance (predictive maintenance) or when they may face an issue.
In this way, physical visits can be reduced drastically, helping to protect the health and safety of employees, while improving efficiencies at the equipment operation level.
Last Mile Deliveries & City Logistics
With the pandemic in full swing, logistics and delivery workers are literally risking their lives when traveling around the city and physically transferring products door to door.
Drones and robots (street bots) are a well-established alternative that already work in specific parts of the world, like company and university campuses that operate autonomous shuttles and a few hospitals have been using drones for emergency air transfers for blood transfusions.
Workers could be used instead to operate and control these from close proximity, like local warehouses, without having to come into direct contact with people that may as be infected.
Manage Uncertainty and Fixed Costs Through Servitization
In times of emergency and crisis, companies and consumers will struggle to pay for loans and monthly fees for services that they don’t use enough or at all. The solution at this ‘trap’ is the servitization of everything; consumers of services and users of assets will be charged per outcome or per usage.
For example, a company that supplies equipment for bottle making will charge its customer – a bottle making company – based on the number of bottles they produce (a minimum monthly fee may be negotiated, case by case). Assuming the demand for wine bottles decreases, the cost for the wine brand will be also reduced thanks to servitization, in this way fostering a more sustainable model (even circular as the crisis/loss/margins are shared and circulated).
On the other hand, producers of antibacterial gel bottles will be charged per bottle by their production equipment vendor, meaning their vendor will get some of the extra value of the increased demand due to the coronavirus. In times of uncertainty and crisis like these, the servitization model is more fair and suitable, while it also signals to companies to continue to invest in assets and equipment.
A similar approach could be adopted by gyms and other leisure activities centers, which could charge per class/usage (online or offline).
You’ve likely seen images of people raiding supermarket shelves. As rude and inconsiderate as this might be, supermarket chains need to take extra measures to tackle this.
As grocery stores start putting restrictions on sold items per customer, IoT and AI have already created potential solutions. Smart shelves, smart fridges, video analytics, and an end-to-end connected supply chain can help retailers cope with uncertainty in their planning and even mitigate customers’ extreme behavior due to panic.
A few years ago, a big supermarket chain in the US put IoT trackers in its trolleys to mitigate regular theft. Maybe it’s time to consider extending this to the supermarket shelves with household essentials, sanitizers and anything else that is now overselling, in an effort to better manage the stock and to discourage hoarding behaviors.
Antitheft Solutions for Toilet Rolls and Antibacterial Gels in Public Spaces
A smart connected toilet roll holder would sound like a joke until recently when employees and customers began sneaking out with toilet rolls from office buildings and public places. An IoT-enabled toilet paper holder that locks the paper and sends notifications when the paper is close to running out or notify if the holder is under attack could be a fantastic solution during this period.
Telemedicine and Healthcare at Home
In the not-too-distant future, smartwatches and health trackers will be widely available and individuals with chronic diseases will be able to monitor temperature, diabetes, heartbeat without the use of invasive devices.
What’s more, patients will be able to choose to send real-time and historic data to public or private hospitals when they feel unwell, provided that health IT systems of hospitals can communicate with patients’ wearables and mobile devices.
In this way, the diagnosis for coronavirus or other diseases could be planned far more efficiently and with the optimal allocation of limited resources. Smart connected medical equipment, like smart ventilators for homes, combined with video and wearables could help with patients monitoring at home, providing guidance to those in need, or even notices when they are in need of paramedics to come and transfer them to the hospital.
3D Printing of Medical Supplies
Ventilators are vital in the treatment of infected patients. Our health systems were not designed to cope with a pandemic at this scale and, as a result, shortages are now common across even the most advanced hospitals.
3D printing could be a lifesaver in the face of supply shortages caused by the coronavirus. With a 3D printer providing vital medical supplies, such as replacement valves. That’s what an Italian company named Isinnova did, bringing a 3D printer to a hospital in Milan and producing missing valves to be supplied to a hospital in Brescia, Northern Italy.
5G – We Can’t Wait
Although still early in experimentation, #5G network slicing – an important feature of 5G – will allocate the right networking resources to wherever is needed the most and adjust connectivity in real-time and even in a predictive manner.
A regional hospital, its ambulances and paramedics, and the city authorities can be interworked in one platform and receive updates as the situation develops in real-time.
For example, paramedics inside the smart ambulance can receive guidance from doctors remotely and use augmented reality to receive more intuitive information about what to do and how to do it. All of these 5G Applications are already being tested in several countries like the UK, China, and the USA and we expect to have them in commercial use in a few years.
Going Contactless Now
Until recently, touch screens were the preferred user interface (UI): on smartphones, monitors, even doors, etc. However, the fact that coronavirus is spread easier from an infected surface than by air has made physical contact feel like a risky thing to do. There are already other UI available that do not require any physical interaction.
Voice was already winning over tactile user interfaces, especially through smart speakers and digital assistants. With people confining themselves inside the house, smart home functions will gather renewed interest and so will smart speakers’ voice functions.
Beyond voice, biometrics and their use for eye/face recognition is another feature gaining ground in devices, like using face image recognition to unlock phones or make payments. The highest adoption is in China but the potential is immense for the rest of the world.
Wearables like smartwatches for payments and other Applications (enabled by voice or close interaction) can help us avoid physical interaction with surfaces.
Undoubtedly, the above does not really require any breakthrough in innovation. Most of these Applications and tools are out there, just not as widely available as we might have needed (and wished) them to be now in times of pandemic crisis.
Will This Crisis Drive a Faster Adoption of Emerging Technologies?
Until 2019, investing in emerging technologies was perceived as nice to have for many. Early movers in emerging tech were looking to achieve cost savings and higher efficiencies, and rightfully so.
From 2020 onwards, companies will start assessing factors beyond these when it comes to investing in IoT, AR, AI, the cloud and so on. And for any potential investment, really. The overall sentiment is shifting and so will the narrative for emerging technologies.
This new narrative will factor in sustainability, public health, and safety, together with the ability to offer and consume services remotely and the extent to which technologies help us adapt to fast-changing environments and withstand shocks from unexpected events, so to build resilience.
This renewed view of things will not only drive faster adoption of emerging tech but will inspire us all to build a better world.
Co-written by Dimitrios Spiliopoulos and Christina Patsioura, Senior Research Analyst for Emerging Technologies at GSMA Intelligence