Innovation during COVID time

Mankind is currently passing through an unprecedented time. The businesses are witnessing recession and financial crisis.

The factories are facing shortages of critical manpower on account of illness, reverse migration of labourers, raw material shortages, breakdowns, lack of maintenance, forced shut downs, delays in execution of contracts etc. However, the compulsions of this difficult time have stimulated innovations everywhere.

“Necessity is the mother of inventions”. When human beings are faced with challenges, they utilize their ingenuity to weather any storm.

Unnoticed, great changes are taking place in the design of products, processes, integration of diverse and coordinated supply chains, virtual work places and practices.

During this time, we see demand for new products and services.

People are finding new ways of remaining in business. Soon after the Covid outbreak, there was a surge in online sale. Transactions in e-commerce for retail sector for the Month of March 2020 saw an increase by 74% compared to the figure for the corresponding month a year ago.

Companies innovated to adopt new strategies to survive. Changed situation is accelerating the automation process.

“Lights out factories” are the realities. Investment in smart manufacturing processes, autonomous material handling, sensors, dash boards, digitisations are being made.

To offset the manpower shortages, particularly in the maintenance and repairs, companies are exploring what robotics could do.

One example is monitoring the vibration and temperatures of machines to avoid breakdowns and adoption of condition-based maintenance practices.

Companies are looking for real time platforms to understand the spikes in demand and shortage. Data analytics are ensuring business success.

Hi-tech innovations for stronger operations, remote monitoring of manufacturing activities and robotics-based automation will be the lasting contributions of COVID pandemic.

For meeting the demand for high speed and high volume data, great investment is being made for up-gradation of telecommunication network including internet services, which will be the key to many future innovations.

Soon after the Covid outbreak, demands for new solutions to human needs drove the innovators.

We come across new product and services to ensure fewer disruptions in our life almost on a daily basis.

We are facing challenges in many areas like health & fitness, beauty & wellness, travel, material & packaging, robotic & electronic.

It will be worthwhile to highlight some examples to know how our minds have been working.

Scientists advocated frequent hand washing, maintaining social distance, wearing of mask, application of sanitizers, disinfection of space, avoiding touching objects at public places amongst few practices to remain infection free.

Initial innovations like self timing soaps for single use, touch free sanitizer dispenser, touch-less lift panels, sanitizing tunnels and booths, money and file sanitizers came in for huge demand along with requirements for sanitizers, disinfectants and face masks.

One comes across a toaster like device to disinfect the mobile phone. UV products are available to disinfect masks.

Scientists have designed protective scarves that also function as air filter, which can be zipped up and attached to a hood.

Transparent face cover connected to mobile phones via blue tooth, called smart mask are driving the youth crazy.

A specially designed mask, when connected to the mobile charger kills the virus using the heat generated by electricity.

Bio-degradable facial mask is environment friendly. Some companies are recycling material and producing masks.

Special masks have been designed for exercise purposes.

In order to ensure social distancing, a type of necklace is available which is made from carbon fibre and integrated with thermal sensor that identifies a nearby infected person.

The wearer can be alerted with the use of audio or visual signal. A pulse vibrating locket to be attached to a necklace to help people stop touching their face, eyes etc is available.

Whenever the hand comes near the chest, it issues alert through vibration mode. Airports are becoming touch less from the point of entry to the boarding gate.

Hotels are becoming completely smart, contact less and unmanned.

Use of IT has enabled to provide all services from check in to check out time through the smart phone of the guest.

In order to help people take up cycling, applications available to show the less travelled routes.

Workout pods are put in gyms so that infections do not spread.

Infection free play grounds are being prepared in cities to help the children play using technologies. Use of drone have been popularised for delivery of services.

Several Apps have been developed for specific needs to help volunteering, reporting of domestic violence, countering disease spread during this time.

Robots are being used to replace human beings in many places. They are deployed in warehouses, schools, offices to disinfect the spaces using UV light.

Dog robots have been used in parks in Singapore to ensure social distancing.

Robots also substitute nurses in Covid hospitals. Those are also being used for swab testing.

There has been innovation on development of virus killing fabric. Use of anti microbial particles on the surface of the cloth causes a chemical reaction blocking the virus’ entry.

Design of circular knotted fabrics has enabled production of protective face masks.

Design of virtual spaces is very common now. In Helsinky, a virtual concert was hosted on May Day with the participation of twelve percent of population of Finland, making it the largest virtual reality event so far, where about seven hundred thousand people logged into the virtual edition of Helsinky city.

This gives an example how environment friendly travel and tourism industry in future is likely to be.

Japanese companies are creating virtual reality experiences on the country’s most popular hot spring destinations.

Using virtual reality headsets, people see the videos uploaded on Youtube channel with sounds of running water, breeze and falling of flower petals.

They get a sense of relaxation being at home during this stressful time.

bishnu1Companies are creating their offices in virtual reality to keep the team together while the employees work from their homes.

The students are receiving degrees during virtual graduation ceremonies.

People have taken to virtual space to protest and strike. Experts are coming on virtual platforms and interacting with the community to address their issues.

NGOs are engaging with the communities to obtain field status for sharing with governments to handle the Covid crisis.

Games and tournaments are being organised and fans are taking their favourite places via applications like Zoom in the virtual stadium. Stress fighting games, meditation Apps have come to the aid of many.

People are able to make purchases from their favourite show rooms in virtual mode which are being designed with 360 degree selling flat forms.

Human beings have powerful brains. Very soon the war against Covid will be over.

However, many of the technological innovations taking place now will leave lasting imprints on the way we live, work and do business. New technologies being adopted will make businesses more resilient.

* The author is Principal Secretary,  The Department of Revenue and disaster management and Odia Language Literature & Culture Department, Government of Odisha government of Odisha. The opinions expressed are personal.

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