By – Greg Kahn CEO Internet of Things Consortium (IoTC)
In any crisis, be it personal or collective, there are many stages though which we may wander, from disbelief, fear and anger to the darkness of the unknown and, eventually, acceptance. The COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. Without a doubt, it has singlehandedly brought the world to its knees. And when—not if—we emerge, loss will surely follow—loss as in a way of life we once knew. And it is understandable. Change challenges us to think with an open mind, see the world with fresh eyes and imagine what is possible beyond the status quo.
Now, hopefully in the final stretch of self-isolation, many on the world stage are already walking forward, bringing forth new ideas to enable a new way of life that places the safety of all human beings at the center—with technology the primary enabler. In fact, for nearly half the global population (the UN reports that 51% now have broadband access), technology is what has enabled us to stay connected during the pandemic. Now, it may be what keeps us safer, healthier and more productive in the future.
The technology community, for one, has formed a united front, stepping up in full force with a singular goal to ensure the health of the public. Apple and Google, for instance, announced a partnership to develop of a new contact-tracing service using cell phones. In May, both companies will release APIs that enable interoperability between Android and iOS devices using apps from public health authorities. These official apps will be available for users to download via their respective app stores. And last week, Facebook hosted a meeting organized by the World Health Organization (WHO) to discuss solutions to the coronavirus outbreak in regard to curbing false information and the spread of conspiracies. The meeting included representatives from Amazon, Twilio, Dropbox, Alphabet’s Google, Verizon, Salesforce, Twitter and YouTube, as well as Airbnb, Kinsa and Mapbox. By the day’s end, the companies agreed to work together on collaborative tools, better content and a call center where the public can ask questions and get advice.
With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC recommending we avoid contact with high-touch surfaces at home (doorknobs, light switches, remotes for screens) and in public places (elevator buttons, handrails, touchpads), new behaviors will likely become the new normal supported by new and existing technologies that will help ensure more touch-free “touchpoints” regarding the way we live, work and socially engage. Here’s what we can expect:
Homes will be smarter: Developments in robotics have already given us machines and devices that can help with cooking and cleaning, inside and out. From vacuuming floors to cleaning leaves from gutters, robots are getting smarter and easier for users to operate them.. Moving past the current crisis, a host of sensors will likely be integrated in every aspect of the home environment to ensure the well-being of occupants, from smart thermometers, TVs and thermostats to sensors connecting with voice assistants that can communicate among appliances, doors, screens, lights and send emergency alerts when something is amiss, like the quality of the air.The data collected by these IoT devices will be central in informing the house of tomorrow.
Cities will be smarter: In addition to the testing and trying of air-purifying billboards and walkways that use human footsteps to power electricity, the idea of a Smart City Data Hub may be a way forward in controlling the spread of disease. Using smart city technology to support epidemiological investigations in an effort to contain COVID-19 outbreak, Singapore and South Korea have been successfully using the “Smart City Data Hub,”which collects urban data that epidemiological investigators use to track coronavirus cases.
Retail will be smarter: Prior to COVID-19, the retail sector was fast shifting toward online. Now,retailers are reconsidering strategies by embracing virtual stores while innovating with the physical. In the near future, we can expect new technology to aid in social distancing, and improvements in self-checkouts. At the 2020 NRF (National Retail Federation) Big Show, numerous automated systems were featured—including a facial payment checkout system by Hisense, a mobile-based checkout-free system by UST Global, CloudPick, and RBS; and a facial ordering and payment system from NEC. Retailers are also likely to push toward new product delivery methods via autonomous vehicles and drones, while robotics will be more integrated in back-office operation with the shopping floor. Walmart, for instance, currently has shelf-scanning inventory robots from Bossa Nova Robotics in 350 stores across the nation, with plans to introduce them in 650 more in the near future.
Healthcare will be smarter—and more accessible: COVID-19 has brought challenges in the U.S. healthcare system into deep focus, but at the same time has been a catalyst in the expansion of telemedicine, with changes in regulations enabling greater access to telehealth services. We may see healthcare return closer to its roots—far more patient centered, with doctors making house calls again—only this time via technology.
Businesses will be smarter: If COVID-19 has taught the business world anything, it is that no two people react to change the same. Productivity will arguably be the benchmark in whether companiesmove toward more relaxed work-from-home policies and hiring remote talent, or away from them. After being forced to use Zoom and other web-based meeting and conferencing software, it’s safe to say that in the future those who master collaborative tools will accomplish more with less, as long as meetings are judiciously scheduled. As for office spaces, deploying enhanced cleaning techniques will be a priority, butit’s still soon to predict whether more innovation such as human temperature sensors and touch-free entryways, elevators and restrooms will become part of that equation in buildings.Cost will be a significant factor. One thing is for sure; no one is missing traffic jams and long hours commuting, (If you do, I want to hear from you!).
Mobility will be more automated: A report released April 16, 2020 from the City Tech Collaborative offers some interesting statistics about mobility during the pandemic: Some 36% of essential workers (2.8 million) around the U.S. rely on public transit to commute to their jobs (Transit Center); The 100 hardest hit U.S. counties were mostly in metropolitan areas that combined generate 51 percent of the country’s GDP and over 88 million jobs (Brookings Study); and data estimates from Transit, the app, show a 77% decline in daily nationwide public transit ridership since stay-at-home mandates began. Getting riders back will be a challenge that requires transportation agencies to rethink urban mobility in terms of ridership experience in particular. But considering that mass transit was created to do just that—move the greatest number of people in the smallest amount of space—social distancing as we now know it will not be sustainable. One thing that is more predictable, aside from more apps that inform riders on route changes, traffic and available seats, is the shift to electric. Executives are betting on it.
People will be more authentic: By now, most of us fortunate to be gainfully employed have realized how critical technology is in keeping the wheels turning and relationships strong. In many ways, with the majority of us forced to work from home under varying conditions—roommates, spouses, children and pets jockeying for space and privacy—this has allowed us to witness in ourselves and others an authenticity that we may never have otherwise experienced, for better or for worse. Dogs barking, sirens blaring, children barging into a Zoom conference, pajamas at noon, a five-o’clock shadow and shaggy hair are all part of being human. And we need not hide from it. Let technology be the artificial part of our lives—it does a good job. And, as we enter into this brave new world, let’s be courageous, compassionate and patient. It will take time to acclimate, but rest assured, we will.
About the Author:Greg Kahn is president and CEO of the Internet of Things Consortium (IoTC) and one of the most connected and engaged members of the Internet of Things (IoT) community. At the helm of IoTC NEXT: The Connected Future Summit, a first-of-its-kind industry event launched in 2019 in New York City, he is uniting foremost brand executives, leading technologists, investors and top media to address the challenges of a connected world.