With COVID-19 completely disrupting our way of life, the entire world is just eager to get back to some semblance of normalcy.
Major leaps in vaccine development have brought some much-needed hope, and with stories of numerous cities and countries successfully mitigating the spread of the coronavirus, it does look like we’re inching closer and closer to the end.
Unfortunately, there’s a good chance that we will continue to struggle with city-wide problems on mobility, work operations, and the like for the foreseeable future; problems that came with the pandemic, and will stay with us for quite some time.
Now, as cities begin to reopen and the public sector is forced to rethink the way we’ve been operating for decades, innovation is stepping in and stepping up. From disruptive solutions to reimagined applications, here are seven examples of how various communities across the world are using technology to adjust and cope with the so-called “new normal.”
Innovation in action: 6 technology solutions for post-COVID-19 problems
1. On-Demand Transit Service (Birmingham, Alabama)
Debuting in December 2019, the Birmingham On-Demand transit service was made possible through a partnership with Via, a ride-sharing app that priced its services at a low flat fee of $1.50. During the project’s pilot run, it catered to people who needed an efficient means of transportation around the city, but couldn’t afford the higher rates of other providers.
However, as the pandemic hit in early 2020, its run was extended to enable residents to reach areas of the city that became less accessible under lockdown. It proved to be a major boon for essential workers; while other services had to cut their routes, Birmingham On-Demand provided doctors, nurses, and other frontliners a quick and cost-efficient way to get to their places of work safely.
2. TrainTime (New York)
If there’s one thing that the pandemic proved in New York City, it’s that the services provided by the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) are invaluable. Ever since the reduced service of the MTA’s transport options at the onset of the pandemic, many city dwellers have found it increasingly difficult to carry on with their day-to-day tasks and get to where they’re supposed to be.
Enter TrainTime, an app developed by the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) staff that uses data to track how crowded trains are, monitor train boarding schedules, and help millions of commuters in the metro (especially those with essential jobs) make smarter, safer decisions about their travels.
3. UVD Robots (Denmark)
Developed in 2014 and rolled out in Odense, Denmark back in 2018, Denmark’s unique UV Disinfection (UVD) Robots are seeing increased use during this pandemic. Due to the limitations and risks of using human personnel to disinfect government offices, hospitals, offices, airports, hotels, academic institutions, and other facilities, Danish authorities have favoured these robots.
Using UV light (UVC in particular), these automatons are used to break down the DNA structures of pathogenic microorganisms in their environment. These self-driving, WiFi-connected bots also provide some respite for overworked frontliners, as they help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and other diseases by bolstering the country’s sanitation and disinfection efforts.
4. StayHomeSafe (Hong Kong)
While some countries have already started letting tourists and travelers back in, it doesn’t mean that they’ve completely relaxed their quarantine guidelines. In fact, technology solutions providers have been developing more powerful ways to ensure that the coronavirus won’t spread because of relaxed travel regulations. One great example is Hong Kong and its StayHomeSafe app (as well as similar solutions adopted in Europe and other parts of Asia).
Upon entering Hong Kong, travelers will receive a wrist band and a QR code, and will be prompted to download the app on their mobile phones. Utilising Bluetooth, cellular, WiFi and GPS, the app will make sure that travelers will stay where they’re ordered to stay during their mandated number of days in quarantine.
5. VergeSense (San Francisco, California)
The COVID-19 pandemic has also forced the public sector and businesses to reimagine the way they run their offices. In particular, social distancing guidelines have practically made remote working a must. Understandably, not all offices are equipped for this radical shift; thus, there is a need for intelligent monitoring solutions that can prevent the spread of COVID-19 as workers return to their office spaces.
VergeSense, which is based in San Francisco, started working on their artificial intelligence (AI) workplace sensors back in 2017. Designed to collect data about how people are moving around in the office, the VergeSense software and hardware combo proved to be an unexpected ally in the fight against COVID-19. With these sensors installed in offices, returning employees can be safely monitored, and can even ensure that social distancing practices are observed during meetings and other interpersonal gatherings.
6. Hello Lamp Post & Hello Council (United Kingdom)
Last but not the least is Hello Council, an initiative thought up by the same minds behind the Hello Lamp Post city-wide digital communication project. Realising that the COVID-19 pandemic presented new challenges in information dissemination for local city officials (partly due to lockdown restrictions and understaffing), the Hello Lamp Post team came up with Hello Council, an AI-driven communications channel accessible via laptop, desktop, or mobile device (through social media messaging services or simple text messaging). It does not require a specialised app, meaning it has a low barrier of entry.
It serves as a direct line with the city council, open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Scanning the QR code enables citizens to get quick answers to COVID-19-related questions, stay updated on current rules and restrictions, learn more about government services offered during the pandemic, or just have someone to talk to in order to help them cope with the current situation.
Organisations interested in incorporating this technology into their cities may send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit their website and fill out their contact form.
Liz Azyan is interested in the ways new kinds of social data and technology introduce challenges and opportunities to society. Get involved with Liz’s latest project here.