Covid-19 Creating new tech opportunities

by: Adam

As published in Spectrum – April (spring 2020) Edition Cambridge Chamber Spectrum Magazine.

The Corona Virus (COVID-19) pandemic has forever altered and changed the economy. It has also changed our way of thinking and the way the world does business, as well as how technology will develop in the future.

The current protocol for those with Coronavirus is to self-isolate, and those who are uninfected to practice social distancing. In an effort to “flatten the curve” (reduce the rate of infection and avoid full epidemic status), the government has encouraged members of society to stay indoors, avoid large gatherings, and work from home. This applies to everyone, no matter their status, and even those of political power or celebrity status are forced to stay at home. In order to avoid an epidemic, these are the measures that society must accept.

This enforcement of social distancing is going to change many aspects of how people conduct business and the way technology is integrated into daily life. In particular, people will accept the seep of technology into their daily lives a lot faster, now that the pandemic has emphasized the importance of technological efficiencies. This includes purchasing products online (ie; the ease and convenience of Amazon), and saving money on paying employees – virtual customer service, digital kiosks for self checkout, or vending machines with high technological specifications for different options (like creating the perfect espresso).

Social distancing has also sped up the development and acceptance of programs facilitating online meetings. Google, Zoom, and Microsoft are all companies that have offered their Enterprise Services that allow companies to set up virtual meeting rooms. This allows everyone the flexibility of working from home while keeping communication open so that people can continue to do their jobs. 

The service has been available for several years, but in these times it has become an eye-opener for those who have used carbon-based paperwork to do business. Now, doing business in digital form is a necessity. Many businesses have also adapted to integrate an online payment system in order to avoid the spread of Coronavirus through the physical handling of cash, checks, purchase orders, and receipt forms. 

Conducting business digitally is going to become more and more normalized – instead of a few years, there will be many advances in the next 18 months as the world tries to deal with the Coronavirus outbreak. As businesses continue to operate in virtual environments, and the entertainment industry tries to deal with many cancelled events and lost jobs, the technology could potentially develop to a whole new level.

Some musicians and bands are streaming their concerts in an attempt to boost morale. Museums are offering virtual tours. Educators are releasing online resources so that kids can continue learning at home. 

Gaming industries have already developed virtual reality (VR) technology. It is not impossible to imagine that one could pop on a VR helmet, buy an online ticket, and enjoy a virtual game from their own home. The digital experience cannot recreate the smells, sounds, and snacks one would experience with physical attendance, but with the advances being made, who knows? When entire countries are forced into isolation and social distancing, it brings out more options for digitization. In order to boost morale and survive as a business, many industries will have to rethink and develop how they use technology.

In both Canada and the United States, epidemic announcements have caused many small businesses to struggle on two fronts: 1) customers are not coming in to eat and 2) employees are not coming to work out of fear or advice from the government. In order to survive, small businesses will have to adapt and figure out how to conduct business in a digital environment rather than a public one.

This opens up a sea of possibilities for a futuristic society that could only be imagined before. Technology has always loomed in the future as a replacement for certain jobs – the effects of Coronavirus will only make changes come faster. Virtual technology and robotics could drive massive growth in the fast food industry – Drive Throughs could even be operated with robots. In Japan, developers are already working on VR avatar-managed robotics that allow workers to remotely control a robot and see, walk and feel through its body. This was originally used for touring purposes, but now it can be used for workers to operate in other situations, such as picking up garbage, drilling, or constructing a home or building. 

VR technology also has applications in education. Since schools are closed for 2-3 weeks, online training and classes are essential in order to continue offering essential learning services to students. This means, again, an emphasis on interacting through technology. Before the Coronavirus outbreak, online learning was slowly being introduced into the educational system – now the process must be expedited in order for education to continue. 

Inventor Elon Musk has already created and launched Exoskeleton, a program that links with VR to give the user the sensation of pressure and touch. This creates a whole new range of possibilities for VR technology and its effectiveness. 

Surviving the current situation is possible due to the natural ingenuity of humans and their ability to adapt. No matter what happens, the world and its relationship with technology and virtual reality in business, entertainment and education will be forever changed in the near future.