drone flight over a city at night
PHOTO: Goh Rhy Yan

As I waited with my husband to get his COVID-19 test (for a medical procedure clearance), conversation inevitably led to how disruptive 2020 has been. We discussed coping mechanisms and my husband said “Well, what has really changed? In the 1970s during the oil crisis I was in long lines waiting to gas up my car and now I’m in a long line once again. We just need to deal with it."

Was this a call for patience? No, actually it was quite the opposite. In times of crisis, it is our impatience — a healthy dissatisfaction with the status quo and a penchant for instant and creative action — that will help us deal.

Here are three examples, inspired by our current pandemic crisis, of adapting tech for new innovative uses.

First, Do No Harm

This year has shown us the importance of improving how we deal with medical crises. Advances in healthcare are methodical by necessity; care must be taken with new medicines and treatments to assure efficacy and safety.

But now we face millions of people of all ages and walks of life, including world leaders, infected by a new, highly disruptive threat. We are in need of immediate innovative approaches as we await the COVID-19 vaccine. Where better to find quick solutions than through new applications of existing technology?

Everything Is Better With Bluetooth

In an episode of one of my favorite guilty pleasure TV comedies, "Big Bang Theory," the gang is creating hair barrettes called Penny Blossoms. When faced with the question of how to broaden appeal to males, they come up with Bluetooth because “Everything is better with Bluetooth.”

Well Bluetooth is exactly what Baylor University chose when searching for a way to improve their game day safety. The classic Baylor Line 50th anniversary season will include new rules of conduct and adapted technology to meet the challenge of the pandemic.

The Baylor Line is being limited to 500 students who, once admitted, will move directly to the designated student seating section to avoid the risk of extended close proximity instead of forming the typical tunnel for the football team. Facemasks and social distancing will also be required throughout the game. The most significant change is the requirement to wear Bluetooth bracelets for COVID-19 contact tracing.

“[Bracelets] will be assigned to each student with a Line ticket for use during the game and will register potential close contacts for Baylor’s contract tracing team in the event that a student or students test positively for COVID-19 after the game.”

And, the bracelets also have a proximity alert that will be reprogrammed in real time to adjust as the Line moves from awaiting admission to the seating area.

Related Article: Can AI Help Us Build a More Resilient Economy in the Face of COVID-19?

Calling Dick Tracy

In fact, wearable tech has been around a while. As I wrote five years ago in a CMSWire article, the Apple smart watch takes us back decades when the coolest gizmo around was comic strip detective Dick Tracy’s two-way wrist radio. Now the Apple watch may also prove to be an indispensable medical device as it is being reimagined for virus detection.

The blood oxygen measurement feature in the newly announced Apple Watch Series 6 will provide one of the key inputs for a study seeking to determine if the device can detect early signs of acute respiratory infection such as the flu or COVID-19.

Researchers say they will recruit a diverse group of participants, including frontline workers and people from under-represented groups that have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Related Article: Plain Language Dos and Don'ts During COVID-19

Welcome to the Drone Age

Robotic drone technology has been developed over decades but only recently is being creatively applied to help fight the pandemic. One of the most interesting use cases is the “coronavirus-killing” robots that have been deployed to improve safety at the Bank of America Stadium.

The Carolina Panthers are the country’s first professional football team to use the Xenex LightStrike robot drone, a powerful xenon UV-ray device. The device was launched in 2011 and was previously used primarily in hospitals and other health care facilities before the coronavirus pandemic. According to Xenex CEO Morris Miller, disinfection is now becoming the norm in the world:

“Wearing masks is normal and expecting a disinfected environment when you go into a residence, a hotel, or an NFL stadium — that’s what the public demands now.”

The LightStrike robot is roughly 4,000 times more intense than other powerful UV-light products.

The robot uses xenon, a noble gas, to produce high intensity UV light that breaks down bacteria and viruses and can destroy the virus that causes COVID-19 on surfaces in two minutes, according to Xenex.

This is just one creative application for drones with many more waiting in the wings (pun intended).

According to the New York Times article “The Drones Were Ready for this Moment” drones are suddenly everywhere during the coronavirus crisis, taking over any number of human tasks as people hunker indoors.

“Drones have been working as police officers, soaring over the banks of the Seine in Paris and the city squares of Mumbai, to patrol for social distancing violators. They’re delivering medical supplies in Rwanda and snacks in Virginia. They’re hovering over crowds in China to scan for fevers below.”

We may well be seeing an innovative and long-prophesied Drone Age, when aerial robots become a common feature of daily life.

Related Article: Drone Fever: The Future of Human Augmentation

Plus ça Change, Plus C'est la Même Chose

The pandemic has exposed our vulnerabilities, but has also revealed creative opportunities to take action. We need not accept that the more things change the more they stay the same.

As technology professionals, we realize we should remain impatient and always alert to adapting tech for new solutions that can help us through this crisis and establish resilience for the future.