Cutting-edge technologies are being put to use in the fight against the COVID-19. From the imaginative to the disturbing, here are 5 technologies that have emerged as important players in the last few weeks.
In several Asian countries and in the United States, there has been a surge in the use of artificial intelligence and robotics. Speaking on the sudden embrace of such technology, Jonathan Tanner, digital consultant at Overseas Development Institute, commented, “Sometimes the pace of innovation in emerging digital technologies can be held back by infrastructure, financing and bureaucratic constraints…When faced with a challenge like responding to the coronavirus outbreak, there are strong incentives to overcome these constraints quickly and put new technology to the test.”
In China, robots are helping out in hospitals, taking on cleaning and sanitization roles, as well as healthcare worker responsibilities. Robots have been delivering food and medication to patients, taking their temperatures, distributing hand sanitizer and moving medical samples throughout hospitals.
At Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, Washington, doctors used a robot to remotely treat a patient. The medical team used the robot’s microphone and a large screen to communicate with the patient while the robot’s camera and stethoscope tracked his vitals.
Robots are not only being put to work in the medical field—they’ve also joined the food industry. There had been hesitation by restaurants to adopt these technologies prior to the pandemic, but with humans abiding by social-distancing guidelines, such robots have proven to be a sanitary and efficient alternative. One such robot is Flippy, created by Miso Robotics, that makes burgers like a fry-cook. Flippy has been used at the California chain CaliBurger. Another droid named Briggo is a robotic barista, who can prepare coffee drinks for users who order via a smartphone app.
2. Delivery Drones
In addition to the increased use of robots, remote-controlled devices like drones are being used across the world. As demand for home delivery of both retail items and food has grown, so has reliance on drone delivery workers. Businesses in China and the Bay Area of California especially have been taking advantage of drones for such purposes.
Historically, people have been wary of drones, due to their association with weaponry and privacy concerns. But investment and e-commerce support for drones has risen substantially since the beginning of the pandemic.
Telemedicine already existed before COVID-19, but people are now flooding to the healthcare tool, which allows individuals to receive clinical services virtually. The need for contactless services has skyrocketed, and telemedicine has proven especially important in treating mild cases of COVID-19 without causing patients to leave their homes. There has also been a boom in the virtual psychiatry and therapy fields. People with mental health concerns who are stuck at home can seek the help they need via virtual, contactless sessions.
4. Mass Surveillance
One of the more controversial responses to the COVID-19 outbreak has been the use of mass surveillance in many Asian countries. Governments and health organizations have been accessing people’s smartphone location data in order to track their movements. This way, amid strict lockdown orders, officials can see if people are abiding by the new rules.
In places like Vietnam and Hong Kong, people download an app that allows officials to ensure quarantine rules are being followed. In Thailand, this type of data collection is done without semi-voluntary downloads.
But the practice is not exclusively used to monitor people’s every movement. Mobile surveillance is also effective at tracking the spread of the virus. If a person has tested positive, the information can then be used to identify the people and environments that a person might have contacted.
One innovation that is fascinating, if not a little dystopian, is biometric technology, which measures and monitors the features of people’s bodies. Tech giants including Baidu, Dermalog, Hanvon, and Telpo have created new biometric technologies to help slow the spread of the virus.
In China, Baidu has implemented facial recognition and infrared sensors to scan 200 people per minute at Beijing’s Qinghe Railway Station. If the sensors read that someone’s temperature is high, it takes an image of their face and sounds an alarm. Meanwhile, the Russian government is using facial recognition technologies to catch people who are breaking quarantine orders.