8 April 2020

IoT in times of a pandemic

Life as we know it has changed. Maybe forever. We all heard about the sacrifices of the WWII generation. The coming generations will remember this time in our history as a remarkable event. How will this new normal look like? Can IoT play a role in giving us a hope of normalcy again?

There are many theories out there. And abundance of fake new on social media. I believe most of the measures that scientists are advising should be followed including social distancing, hygiene, avoiding covidiot habits, etc.

After seeing how resilient this virus is as its starting to re-emerge in China and South Korea, it is becoming more evident that we might be missing something here to control this contagion in the long term. Vaccines can be helpful in case the virus is not mutating – which it is. So, what else can be done?

I got inspiration from the 1997 Film Gattaca which might have the answer. Widespread, rapid and cheap testing. Imagine if by some magic goggles everyone can see who is infected. It would instantaneously be possible to track and isolate the infections, decimating the spread. Rapid testing kits are increasingly being worked on and should be available already or in the near future. Maybe not as rapid as what is portrayed in Gattaca but even a 15 min – 1 hour test could help massively.

Science Fiction: Instantaneous result shown by Green/Red LED 

Various building owners are now using thermal imaging technology to track people with a fever. They have been widely used at many airports in Asia. These could now be common at office buildings, restaurants, other public places (apart from the regular metal detectors!). I predict that newer metal detectors could also check your body temperature looking at the health aspects as well as security screening.

Biometric fingerprint touch sensors will soon be a thing of the past. Pin entry on keypads will go out the door. Touchless biometric sensors will be applied everywhere. Even better if they are able to check the body temperature or blood oxidation as well.

With today’s technology, IoT sensors mounted on office ceilings are already capable to monitor presence of human body heat. In the future, perhaps they could be used also to track persons ‘running hot’. Furthermore, wearable technology manufacturers should be rushing towards reporting temperature in addition to steps taken.

Another IoT application can be for employees who may have a higher risk of exposure or who recently returned from travelling. They could use office desks or work space booking solutions and be directed to a secluded space within an office. Rooms can be pressurized in those areas to maintain a negative pressure as well.

IoT can help in social distancing. These sensors can be used to monitor the density in the offices and if too many employees and visitors enter the spaces, the access control system can give alarms or even block access for more people to enter the building.

Similarly, I predict that hotels will start to open gradually. To be prepared, they should allocate separate wings for guests who have recently travelled or at higher risk based on a self questionnaire. These wings should be served by separated air handling units with fresh air coming in at 100% and/or keeping some negative pressure as well. This will reduce the risk of cross contamination. Many measures in the SOP’s can be taken to ensure guest privacy as well.

On the other hand, the trend of working from home may also prove to be valuable to many organizations as they realize their ability to work productively without coming into the office. Eventually, this may lead to organizations choosing to allow employees to work from home for a selected number of days within a month. The use of IoT comes into play here, where sensor technology can identify spaces which are then underutilized – allowing tenants to repurpose these spaces or even reduce their rental space, therefore minimizing their overheads.  

IoT and rapid testing technologies for COVID-19 is the missing link here which is up to now being overlooked. With many countries in fire fighting mode, some thought towards long term solutions are warranted. Smart technology might be the missing link to help get life back to normal, while still taking precautionary measures & keeping data privacy.

Do you think this vision makes sense? Do you have any other use cases that we might be seeing in the future?

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