By Kunal Kislay
The world is now united and on a mission to fight the unpropitious times that lie ahead due to COVID-19. The pandemic has exposed the hollowness of the healthcare system and has left the economy in dire straits. A rising economic depression is affecting almost all sectors ranging from manufacturing to trade, transport, tourism, retail, and so on. Nothing is unscathed from this unanticipated situation as it touches our deeper vulnerabilities.
The lives of people will now be phased as pre-COVID and post- COVID. A post-COVID life marks mask and sanitizer as essentials like a wallet or id card. The big question is – how will the government ensure checks and balance at public places and can technological diligence help. This crisis has caused a major leap in acceptance of technologies in both personal and professional spaces. In the time taken to create a vaccine or cure, countries, enterprises, and individuals are left defenceless. Artificial intelligence provides us the ammunition to fight this battle by processing seemingly unrelated data to give life-saving insights. Technological intervention such as machine learning, natural language processing, computer vision, and deep learning can help track, identify and prevent the spread of the virus further and reboot the economy.
Technology to the rescue
The government should identify effective policy-oriented and industry-agnostic solutions in a post-COVID scenario to kickstart economic activities and help revive manufacturing and services industry. We need a multi-disciplinary approach which leverages advanced technologies for a safe and productive work environment. Existing modern solutions from a technology standpoint can help in building economic resilience and lessen the impact of the pandemic.
Geographic Information System (GIS): Geospatial analytics uses information garnered to engage the spatial professionals in their decision-making and response to help the government. Aarogya Setu app promoted by the government which helps in tracing a corona positive patient in your proximity is based on this technology.
Computer Vision: The AI-enabled technology is capable of detecting symptoms associated with COVID-19 such as fever and abnormal respiratory patterns in real-time with high accuracy. In day to day operations monitoring tasks, computer vision helps in accident prevention and fixing manufacturing defects.
The three defences against Corona – using face masks, maintaining social distancing, and screening for high temperature can all be monitored using an AI based computer vision platform. This technology uses live feed from CCTV networks to identify non-compliance. Identification of non-compliant people and suitable action is crucial in all places that have a regular movement of people – be it factories, hospitals, places of worship, malls or regular commute areas like bus-stands, airports and railway stations. The data from these solutions – percentage of people wearing masks and following social distancing can be displayed at a public place via LED sign boards, projected on an app or displayed on a website by a live counter.
Natural Language Processing (NLP): The World Health Organisation(WHO) used this Deep Learning technology to provide a user-friendly platform for public awareness initiatives by deploying chat-bots to help disseminate guidelines and protocols to mitigate the COVID crisis. This has helped people to make more informed and conscious decisions when it comes to norms of social distancing and hygiene practises to decrease the risk of being infected. It also provides easy fact-checking and helps dispel rumors.
Internet of Things(IoT): Critical assets monitoring to ensure anti-theft measures for temporarily abandoned places; and monitoring in healthcare to keep an eye on important appliances, tracking deliveries of highly demanded medicine or products could be undertaken with the help of IoT.
Robotics: Robots have the potential to be deployed for disinfection, delivering medications and food, measuring vital signs, and assisting border controls. As the number of COVID cases increase, the potential role of robotics is becoming increasingly clear.
Drones: Drones were used by a couple of states in India during the nationwide lockdown for surveillance and contact monitoring. Countries across the world found multiple new uses of drones – from delivery of critical supplies, disinfecting common areas, collection of blood samples from remote areas and even for checking temperature. In India, post lockdown, conditional exemptions are given for surveillance, photography and public announcements. Enterprises and governments are exploring the options of using drones for contact-less delivery. A new industry is on the rise for training, usage and deployment of drones.
Sectors adopting advance technologies to mitigate COVID crisis
The power of an innovative business lies at the intersection of three domains: Business, Technology, and Ethical Diligence.
Manufacturing: At the moment, India is using AI for predictive maintenance in industries and large scale factories to identify and report faults in tools/parts, machines or manufacturing processes. Real-time reporting leads to decrease in the number of accidents. Many organisations are harnessing the benefits of AI solutions for predictive maintenance that prevents unplanned downtime. If used correctly, AI-based technology grants an edge over the operational level of production, optimises manufacturing supply chain and provides an analysis of consumer behaviour patterns. Moreover, the AI algorithms also enable the manufacturer in staff optimizing, channelizing supply of raw materials, estimation of collected information and so on.
Another offshoot of this technology, computer vision is capable of product improvement as well, the technology can be used to spot microparticles and surface defects which is beyond difficult with the human eye and very time consuming.
Today, robots can also be seen collaborating with humans and changing the face of the manufacturing industry globally. The incorporation of robots also significantly improves product quality as applications are performed with precision and superior repeatability. Robots can be automated to most the most tedious tasks in the production- line such as Material handling.
Retail: The AI-equipped modern workforce provides insights about various aspects of an organisation – marketing, sales, employee satisfaction. AI-driven technological frameworks can also ensure employee and customer safety using computer vision during such testing times.
Installing computer vision algorithms to CCTVs will safeguard the employees from any infectious diseases by providing high-level accuracy and transparency. It offers a plethora of business benefits from face mask compliance, social distance monitoring, and thermal camera screening.
Robotics on the other hand is the driving force which can transform the retail sector. Manual labour,especially repetitive and routine tasks can be automated. Airports have started deploying mini robots performing fumigation and maintaining sanitary practices helping in human-human contact.
Storage: In a post- COVID world, warehouses could be modernised incorporating the AI-equipped operations. The operational cost and efficiency can be optimised by exploring the potential of computer vision and machine learning. Furthermore, Asset utilization, Dock utilization, Truck turn-around-time (TAT), Machine utilization, fast-moving pods, and robotics arms can prove to be game-changers in the packaging process. In any Computer Vision enabled warehouse, virtual boundaries separate the pathways for forklifts and pedestrians. In case of violations of guidelines, alarms are activated. This helps in building a safe and well-surveyed working environment for employees.
During this time, it is imperative to take utmost precautions for employees who resume work after months. Manufacturing hubs might not be allowed to work in full capacity which makes it critical to deploy automated technologies and reduce worker density, incorporating tech will also cut down on the cost of operations.
Individuals and organisations who deploy some of the technologies mentioned will be the harbingers of change, enjoying the dividends as an organisation and as a society. Technological adoption and agility will become the lynchpin to economic stability in the near future.
(The author is the CEO, Integration Wizards Solutions)