by Praveen Bhadada, Managing Partner & Global Head, Zinnov; Prankur Sharma, Head – IOT Practice, Zinnov; Guest Contributor: Tony Shakib, General Manager – Azure IOT, Microsoft
The uncontrolled spread of coronavirus has affected over 5.1 million people globally and led to more than 330,000 deaths (as of May 22nd 2020). With confirmed cases across 180+ countries, the virus has created an unprecedented impact on economies and businesses across the globe. It is already the most severe pandemic of this century. In fact, it is the deadliest outbreak since the Hong Kong Flu that had claimed 1 million lives in 1968-70.
IOT – the Silent Hero helping fight COVID-19
Governments and private sector organizations are doing everything in their power to combat COVID-19. While the US and other Western European nations have witnessed a massive number of confirmed cases, there are a few countries such as Taiwan, New Zealand, and Vietnam that have been able to successfully flatten the curve, keeping the number of infected cases to a minimum. A major contributing factor in this fight against COVID-19 has been digital tools and technologies, and more specifically, IOT (Internet of Things), which has been leveraged extensively to both control and fight the virus. Taiwan is a great example, where the government ensured citizens’ adherence to quarantine guidelines by using geo-fencing through mobile phone locations. Alarms alert the authorities in case any phones are turned off or if any quarantined individuals leave their shelter locations.
China is another example of how technology has been crucial in the war being waged against coronavirus. Globally, the Government and Healthcare sectors are at the forefront of this battle by leveraging IOT-based tech including robotics, Augmented Reality (AR)/Virtual Reality (VR), drones, and wearables.
In parallel, private enterprises across sectors such as Manufacturing, Travel & Hospitality, and Retail/E-commerce are investing in a number of relevant IOT use cases ranging from remote collaboration to automated checkout systems aimed at addressing the spread of the virus while balancing business continuity. Other sectors such as transportation and logistics, and education are also leveraging IOT to combat COVID-19.
While a number of the IOT use cases currently being deployed are aligned to more immediate needs, there is a fundamental transformation that organizations are undergoing. Companies’ business operations have been modified to establish deep leverage of IOT-based technologies and deployment of a number of IOT use cases that are becoming a part of the “new normal.” As the situation improves in a few months from now, IOT deployment cycles will be accelerated across use cases. China, which has opened up after the first lockdown, is already on this journey. Shanghai’s Sunwin Bus Corporation has begun rolling out terminals that include facial recognition thermometers that also has features such as mask detection in its buses, along with contactless ticket validation to avoid contact between driver and the passengers.
Top IOT Use Cases that have found Firm Footing due to COVID-19
Let’s take a look at the specific use cases that organizations across different sectors are adopting.
I. IOT Use Cases in Healthcare
- Medical Research and Clinical Trials: Researchers are developing VR-based models to understand the structure of the virus as well as the damage it causes to human organs. The doctors at George Washington University Hospital used VR technology to create a model of the lungs of a COVID-19 patient and study the damage that it causes. Researchers are also leveraging technologies that can automate the various tasks within a research lab such as storage and retrieval of human cells, and the cell-culturing process.
- Treatment and Diagnosis: AI-based Computer Vision technology is being used by doctors to diagnose coronavirus and evaluate the severity, by looking at patients’ scans. Tampa General Hospital in Florida is using AI to detect visitors with fever, with a simple facial scan.
- Hospital Operations: Several hospitals across the world are using robots for tasks ranging from the supply of medicine and food, to disinfecting of hospital areas, to leading therapy and entertainment sessions for patients. COVID-19 patients in Alexandra Hospital in Singapore receive medication and meals from robots that can interact in four different languages. Hospitals are also deploying systems to ensure hand hygiene for hospital workers and healthcare professionals, so that the transmission of the disease can be prevented.
- Remote Patient Engagement: Healthcare providers can remotely interact with patients through tele-consultation platforms and monitor their health in real-time through smart sensors, enabling triaging and preventing unnecessary hospital visits. Atrium Health launched an ‘at home care program’ that provides patients who test positive for the novel coronavirus, and need close monitoring but not intensive care, with remote health monitoring devices. Certain providers are also facilitating virtual support groups for patients using VR headsets.
II. IOT Use Cases deployed by the Government
- Safety and Hygiene: A number of Government departments have deployed thermal cameras or contactless thermometers to detect persons suspected of being infected. Bahrain’s Information & eGovernment Authority (iGA) launched electronic wrist bands compatible with the country’s coronavirus contact tracing app, ‘BeAware,’ designed to alert the government monitoring stations of any behavior that could potentially intensify the spread. Similar initiatives have been taken by the New Zealand and Indian Governments that are enabling health professionals to track people’s locations through their phones to effectively conduct contact tracing and identify the persons exposed to the virus.
- Supervision and Compliance: Drones are being leveraged to monitor movement of people, transmit public information messages, and to drive citizen compliance by requesting people to stay indoors, as well as to carry out proper disinfection. Various IOT-based technology is also being leveraged to trace infected persons and ensure effective quarantine measures to control the spread of the disease. Police officers in China have been equipped with smart helmets that come with built-in infrared cameras and sound an alarm if anyone within sixteen feet has a fever.
- Citizen Services: Providing essential services to citizens while ensuring ‘social distancing’ is leading to the adoption of smart and automated solutions. State police departments in India are leveraging biometrics and Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to issue e-passes to eligible individuals (for movement during lockdown) based on validation of identity documents and other supporting documents. These e-passes are available on an individual’s mobile phone and come with QR codes that can be verified by police officers through mobile scanners.
III. IOT Use Cases in other Key Sectors: Retail, Manufacturing, Travel & Hospitality
- Retail/ E-commerce: The Retail industry across the globe has been severely impacted by COVID-19, but the essential retail segment comprising of groceries, personal care items, and pharmaceuticals is still functioning. The essential retail segment has deployed technology to ensure that stores do not become hotspots of virus spread. Walmart and Target are reportedly in talks with Amazon to license the ‘Just Walk Out’ technology that will allow for cashier-less stores. In Vietnam, automated pick-up points for delivered goods have been set up with smart lockers across Ho Chi Minh City to ensure contactless delivery. Online retailers are also exploring the use of autonomous vehicles and drones to deliver goods to reduce human touchpoints and dependence. Wing, Alphabet’s unit that offers drone delivery and serves customers such as Walgreens, is witnessing an increase in demand in Virginia, where it is operating currently.
- Manufacturing: With a number of factories running at reduced capacities and minimal staff, AR-based solutions are allowing for workers to collaborate virtually and seek assistance from remote experts for machine maintenance or troubleshooting. Manufacturers are also highly dependent on factory automation and remote production monitoring to sustain operations during the current situation. With a surge in demand for ventilators, personal protective equipment (PPE), and sanitizers, several factories have pivoted to manufacturing these items. A great example of this is a consortium in the UK, which includes Ford, GVK, and HVM Catapult, which started manufacturing ventilators. AR-based mobile apps were used to create and share training content, and guide workers to set up production processes needed to make ventilators.
- Travel & Hospitality: The Travel & Hospitality sector is one of the worst-hit due to COVID-19. Airports, train stations, cruise ships, and hotels have deployed fever detection systems to detect individuals infected with the coronavirus. Airports across India have installed IOT-enabled devices that ensure proper hand hygiene for airport staff. In fact, some facilities are using robots to safely carry out their day-to-day operations. Hotels in China that were used to quarantine people suspected of having the virus, deployed robots to deliver food directly to the rooms. Robots are also used by Hong Kong’s subway system to help disinfect rail cars.
With this battle against COVID-19 expected to continue for many more months, digital technologies are proving to be the most effective tool in our arsenal. IOT has been key in helping Governments, businesses, and the society hold the fort, as countries across the world face the onslaught of this deadly virus. The coming times will only see the community double down on deploying various IOT solutions discussed above, with newer use cases expected to emerge as well.
Currently, the investments on digital technologies made by governments and private enterprises are largely centered around the direct implications of COVID-19. However, this black swan event will force organizations to relook at their strategy and shift towards embedding technology, and more specifically IOT, even more deeply in the fulfilment of business operations and engagement with customers.
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