The COVID-19 pandemic and social isolation gave rise to the development of new technologies and gadgets, some of which seemed to be a matter of the distant future before. Let’s talk about what know-how has already come into our lives during the pandemic, and how engineers are helping doctors fight the coronavirus.
The science and technology industries, like others, have been hit by the coronavirus. Suspension and reorientation of research, disruption in supply chains, closure – albeit temporary – of research institutes and departments have resulted in lost profits and a general slowdown.
But there is also a flip side to the coin. The COVID-19 virus has accelerated digital transformation – many had to move almost all processes online, and also helped scientists employ already existing technologies and find new ones to fight the infection. All means are used, and innovative developments seem to have made a leapfrog into a new future.
Robots on guard
The pandemic resulted in increased demands for disinfection. The world is swept by a wave of cleanliness, and professional cleaners and cleaning companies enjoy an unprecedented demand for their services. However, in addition to popularity and growing revenues, cleaning and disinfection professionals faced a new problem: employees had to work in conditions of increased risk of contracting the infection.
This is when robots came to help. Work for robots implies the 4D formula: Dull, Dirty, Dangerous, Dear, and routine operations in various fields were performed by machines due to the high cost of human labor even before the advent of the pandemic. The COVID-19 virus posed new challenges for engineers, and innovative disinfection robots have emerged in response to new needs.
One of the benchmarks in this industry is Danish UVD Robots. The company’s disinfection robots became the world’s first third-generation UV-C disinfection robots, with the new generation update coming particularly to find the COVID-19 infection. Compact and nimble, they are able to function not only in large rooms, where an ordinary cleaning robot can handle but also in smaller rooms, such as hospital wards or bathrooms. The little cleaner takes care of people in every sense of the word: not only it disinfects surfaces, but also detects, saves, and shows users the information about how well an area is disinfected, and automatically turns off when approaching people so as not to accidentally harm them. Despite the apparent simplicity, such functions have not previously been implemented in cleaning robots, and the Danish company has become an innovator in this area: “We have designed the world’s most advanced UV robot, which is also the world’s simplest to use,” says Per Juul Nielsen, CEO of UVD Robots. “Anyone can install the robot in a matter of minutes and immediately put it into operation.” With the latest placement of a sizeable order from the European Commission, the technology will be available in hospitals across Europe. The robots will serve the good of millions of people, just as already does the next technology in this article.
Clean hands, safe future
When the pandemic was declared, governments of many countries issued recommendations on the preference of paying with plastic cards. As many know, this was due to the alleged insecurity of banknotes, the assumption of which appeared in the wake of general panic.
In fact, even the cautious World Health Organization never issued any strict instructions to switch to purely non-cash payments due to the threat of contracting the virus. Instead, it simply noted that it was enough to observe normal hygiene rules with regard to money, that is, to wash hands thoroughly after any contact with coins and paper money. Better still, the need for accuracy with regard to such objects has been known for a long time before the pandemic: banknotes do not spread pathogens per se if hands are washed.
As time went on, it became apparent that the attempt to completely abandon cash had failed: the world still needed coins and banknotes. However, vigilance about banknotes remained, and at this time French money printer Oberthur Fiduciaire entered the arena. Many years ago, the company developed Bioguard, an innovative solution for complex anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal surface protection, and introduced it into the turnover of several banknotes across the world, with billions of banknotes protected today. Now, technology has become even more relevant. The innovation of Bioguard lies not only in a wide range of applications, but also in its safety: contacts with the coating do not result in any additional irritation or sensitization, and the technology fulfils the ISO 10993-1 section 10 on medical devices. Thus, thanks to the innovation, banknotes can be protected from bacteria, moulds, viruses, and other pathogens, Oberthur’s chairman Thomas Savare said earlier: “We have been very pleased with the reaction to the launch of Bioguard; we believe these [biocidal] properties will be as common a feature on banknotes as intaglio or watermarks within a few years.” Now that the technology has been successfully applied and used in Europe and Northern America, and with excellent results of newly conducted tests on the coronavirus family that includes COVID-19, it becomes clear that safe and protected banknotes are our new future.
Drones to the rescue
Internet fixation has been criticized, condemned, or simply ridiculed many times in recent years. And suddenly, with the advent of the pandemic, online services have gone from convenience to essential. It is difficult now to imagine how those who were far from technology, social networks, and online shopping managed through the lockdowns. The Internet allowed people not only to survive but also to continue leading a reminiscently familiar life: to work, live, communicate and even visit online concerts and events.
However, the problem of delivery was still pressing, and the healthcare sphere was one that suffered the most. Medical supplies cannot be just downloaded from the Internet, and certain types of medications – such as COVID-19 vaccines – require special delivery conditions. With transportation problems that occurred during the pandemic, the problem has become pressing – or at least that was so before drones came to the rescue.
Back in 2016, the American company Zipline carried out the first-ever delivery of blood and drugs by UAVs in Rwanda. The company’s activities in Africa have only been growing ever since, and when the pandemic started, the red and white self-flying machines turned to be a help that cannot be overappreciated. Delivery by drones is not now, but it’s not very common to entrust unmanned vehicles with transportation of such delicate material as vaccines. However, the government of Ghana (where Zipline operates as well) decided to bet on the technology and chose Zipline as one of the couriers to deliver the first vaccines supplied to Africa by the COVAX initiative.
The trust paid off: “The reason Ghana was the first country to receive the COVAX vaccine is that they had the strongest application, and the reason they had the strongest application is they can guarantee the delivery of this vaccine to any health facility or hospital in the country at low cost and very high reliability,” Zipline’s CEO Keller Rinaudo told The Verge. Clever transportation arrangement of routes, own distribution centers and the passive refrigeration technology implemented in the UAVs helped Zipline deliver over 1 million vaccines, and the company is not planning to stop, reaching millions of people across the country and the continent.
A little over a year has passed since the world learned about COVID-19. Now, we see that the disease spread has accelerated digital transformation around the world, and all means are used to combat it, including the latest developments and clever combination of medical and technological solutions.