COVID-19 has marched across our work styles, home lives, education, business processes and of course our health practices. The world emerging from COVID’s upheaval will play by new rules, and demand new technologies. Below is a sampling of the tech that will be accelerated by changes related to the pandemic, as well as existing tools and services that will help to enable this new world.
Stores and shopping
Retail had begun a digital transformation well before COVID, that trend will accelerate as stores are forced to accommodate fewer customers — and fewer customers choose to enter them.
- Checkout will change to cashless, mobile and self-serve approaches such as Amazon’s Go retail concept. Startups like Standard Cognition and biometric approaches like face and voice recognition, which eliminate all contact, should also come to the fore.
- Personalized shopping tools like Anagog’s JedAI, which uses data from smartphone sensors to build hyper-personalized consumer profiles, should see a boost.
- Digital sales assistants like Hero will guide customers through the aisles.
- Better real-time monitoring will keep inventory on shelves, as RFID and handheld scanning technologies, along with point-of-sale data, keep track of inventory levels.
- And virtual dressing rooms and makeup try-ons through avatars and overlays borrowed from mobile apps that change faces on screen will also become more prevalent.
The “buy local” movement has gotten a boost during lockdown periods and data shows it is a growing priority for consumers: An Accenture survey found that 45% said local commerce was important to them. So we’ll likely see more of these technologies:
- Drone delivery, such as Starship, which will roll out soon in Texas with a handful of shops in Austin that can have their products delivered via contactless robots. Amazon Prime Air, UPS and DHL have each been testing drones for the fast (under thirty minutes) delivery of light packages.
- Entrants like Nuro, pod-like autonomous cars, are being tested as delivery vehicles in US communities.
- A backlash against the usurious rates of food delivery services might give way to new tools that empower restaurants to reach customers in new ways.
Home tech hubs for work, learning and fun
As much of the population suddenly retreated into their homes, remote work got a boost that is not likely to ebb, even as the virus risk subsides. Home-based education also surged. Social and entertainment behaviors went even more digital. With more pressure on homes to do more, expect these technologies to expand going forward:
- The COVID darling of video conferencing has been Zoom, but security concerns have kept many companies away in favor of Microsoft Teams, Google Meet and others. Expect video calling software to go after different demographics and settings, like Houseparty, which is video conferencing for off-hours. And look for an ecosystem of video conferencing tools, such as Docket, a content collaboration tool for virtual meetings.
- Technologies that mimic the experience of being physically present will see more demand to create better virtual interactions:
- Spatial and Spaces feature avatars in interactive virtual meetings, complete with whiteboards.
- CoSpaces is designed for educational collaborations in VR and AR.
- Haptic technologies make it possible to feel or touch things — or even give someone a hug.
COVID made it exceedingly clear that health services and tools have been largely stuck in a pre-digital age. Before the pandemic, for example, delivery of remote medical services was little more than a video call with HIPAA compliance. With increased public focus on health and medicine, digital health will see an increase in development and adoption, such as:
- Temperature-reading systems in public places, such as this one that diagnoses within 10 seconds. Kinsa Health uploads temperature readings from a million devices to map atypical fevers and illnesses.
- Home-based diagnostic tools such as MedWand’s multi-purpose, handheld digital diagnostic device that takes readings from lungs, ears, throat, blood oxygen level and more — and passes the data along to your doctor.
- Better telemedicine platforms that use AI and machine learning to analyze clinical data, diagnose symptoms and make care recommendations — in addition to allowing you to interact with a doctor, virtually and on-demand.
- Robots that provide support functions in hospitals, such as cleaning contaminated spaces in hospitals, like Violet, or performing basic nursing functions, like TRINA.
- More attention to older populations with developments such as the assistive robots from Labrador Systems.
- Better digital tools and services for mental health that go beyond meditation apps and stress journals to address serious crises, some of which arise from isolation.
- And some projects focused on detecting COVID that may stay with us past the pandemic, such as collecting biometrics from wearables to track illness spread, like Detect.
Economies did not screech to a halt, but consumers’ sudden panic-buying behaviors gave the supply chain a run for its money and highlighted the shortcomings of just-in-time manufacturing. A renewed focus on supply chain processes should kick some of these technologies into high gear, making it more digital and better able to react:
- Better predictive analytics and tools to help anticipate massive disruption.
- More robots: robotic process automation and autonomous mobile robots in factories and warehouses to make up for physical distancing impacts, increase automation and supplement workers, such as Amazon has done with its Kiva robots that carry large pallets and even scan and box items.
- Blockchain to establish clear, immutable records that keep track of everything from raw materials to procurement orders and equipment health, as well as weather conditions along delivery routes.
- Sensors, connected devices and QR codes to collect data at every checkpoint, from the status and condition of goods and manufacturing processes to distribution schedules and locations.
- Advanced analytics, AI and machine learning technologies that apply data from these sources and others to monitor progress and make changes to the supply chain in real-time.
- Localized, on-demand manufacturing-as-a-service platforms to reduce distance from production to customer.
- Autonomous vehicle technology, such as drones for inventory counts and deliveries.
These technologies will get a boost from the pandemic, and stay with us for years to come, creating new opportunities for new ways of working, living, learning and staying well.