The Smart Technologies Needed to Go ‘Contactless’
As the huge majority of people are yet to be vaccinated for coronavirus disease, there has been a lot to consider when it comes to creating a contactless world during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thankfully, modern smart technologies (such as those listed next) have the potential to help facilitate many COVID-friendly precautions, including crowd management, the distribution/delivery of food and medical supplies, and—of course—the general implementation of social distancing and self-isolating.
Some of the technologies that could help us achieve this are covered in the next subsections.
Positioning Technology and Robotics
The use of navigation satellite systems, with the help of data and mapping technology, to access problem hotspot areas and deliver food and healthcare equipment with the help of drones.
In fact (as covered later), robots in general could enable patients to interact virtually with doctors, deliver vital supplies, clean infected areas, and provide thermal screening in public places.
Smart medical technologies concept. Pictured: various graphics related to advanced healthcare solutions. Image Credit: Bigstock.
IoT Applications and Telemedicine
Smart healthcare applications could trace people’s movement, particularly through the incorporation of sensors that test body temperature and other symptoms. This can also enable individuals to check their health status and deliver up-to-date, accurate information.
Digital platforms relevant to telemedicine, moreover, could enable doctors to remain connected with their patients in relation to diagnosis, treatment, and monitoring. IT may also be used to provide and enhance medical education, training, and general public awareness.
Ultraviolet radiation—particularly UVC, one of the highest intensities of ultraviolet radiation—can damage the COVID-19 virus due to its short wavelength. It could be used in hospitals to disinfect plenty of objects such as medical devices and general laboratory equipment.
Imaging Technology and Facial Recognition
Imaging technology could be used alongside artificial intelligence to power thermal cameras to measure people’s body temperatures and alert people who are in public places without face coverings.
Plus, as a replacement to typical biometrics, facial recognition technology could improve security systems while at the same time measuring body temperature. This may help to identify infected people and provide warnings when no mask is being worn.
An example of contactless technology: telemedicine. Pictured: a patient uses her laptop so that a doctor can remotely explain to her how to take her own blood pressure. Image Credit: Bigstock.
The Challenges of Building a Contactless World
At the time of writing, vaccinations are already being rolled out in many countries to combat the coronavirus disease, but the global lockdowns brought about by the pandemic have opened—and continue to open—the eyes of many to the importance of COVID-friendly technology.
Again, advanced technologies, such as contact-free deliveries and healthcare, can help us to reduce the effect of the virus. What’s more, by having technology in place, we can prepare ourselves for the future, whatever it may bring.
Nevertheless, building the collaboration of networks, knowledge, and data needed for advanced technologies to facilitate a contactless world is no mean feat. It brings many challenges, and when it comes to digital innovation such as this, there are system limitations as well as legal and ethical barriers to overcome.
Accordingly, to strengthen our pandemic management, we need to address some of the following challenges.
Many existing solutions don’t have the security or situational data needed to enable tasks without human insight. For example, CCTV cameras can’t rotate and focus on a scene or object of interest without manual intervention.
In fact, left unaided, CCTV cameras simply sweep a scene at random, meaning a person must point the camera at an area of interest if there is to be any fool-proof use of such technology. For engineers and manufacturers, the challenge of achieving smart technology autonomy lies in removing the need for manual input while not escalating the cost of operation.
Any solution needs accountability and traceability, especially when it comes to delivering life-saving equipment and other crucial supplies. There are safety concerns that surround systems reliant on LiDAR (or light detection and ranging) and these are preventing the adoption of smart logistics, transport, and delivery systems.
Engineers need to find accurate and repeatable ways to ensure security systems may detect, locate, identify, and classify all objects with minimal delay and with the utmost accuracy, even when GPS or mobile coverage is unavailable.
A photograph of a flying drone that utilises LiDAR technology. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Despite the considerable research into object recognition technologies, current AI is still limited in its ability to uniquely identify and distinguish personnel, equipment, and supplies. This is as the fidelity of data, such as those captured by cameras and LiDAR sensors, don’t give the required level of detail. What’s more, factors such as poor environmental conditions or long-range distances can further impact the accuracy of smart technologies.
Engineers and other researchers still need to find a way to augment the fidelity of the data acquired by sensors to deliver unambiguous results that can power fast, accurate decision making by artificial intelligence.
What Solutions are Being Put Forward?
In a time of global concern, engineers and other experts from large corporations and collaborative organisations are coming forward with solutions. Some of the notable solutions, which could solve some of the challenges we’ve discussed, include the following.
R4DAR Technologies is fronting a pioneering project to develop a new low-cost, low-maintenance identification solution that augments data reliability from autonomous vehicles and other smart solutions. The technology is intended to work alongside existing cameras, LiDAR, motion sensors, and embedded technology.
The technology uses beacons and radars to identify key objects of interest through data exchanges. If successful, it would allow cameras to reliably distinguish what they are looking at, where it is, and what it’s doing—thereby mitigating many of the risks of autonomous applications.
GNSS (standard global navigation satellite system) positioning is only accurate to three to five metres, which is far from suitable for fully autonomous systems. Positioning systems company Swift Navigation has created a Precise Positioning service, which is superior to GNSS for locating terrestrial devices. It uses highly reliable cloud corrections to deliver a cutting-edge positioning algorithm, and this enables it to stream multi-constellation, multi-frequency corrections that are accurate within ten centimetre
As the solution uses the cloud to generate the corrections, it saves on the associated costs of embedded intelligence within each device. What’s more, the system can deliver accuracy down to a centimetre, which could take the technology beyond self-driving vehicles and into drone use.
A robot from PAL Robotics waves to the camera. Image Credit: PAL Robotics.
PAL Robotics has launched a robot, known as TIAGo, for the fast deployment of autonomous vehicles. Using positioning technology from electronics company Accerion, the project aims to enable autonomous vehicles to navigate hospitals. Plus, as both the hardware and software are modular, the technology means that engineers may easily install and upgrade the relevant systems.
Accerion’s positioning technology uses sensors that are more robust than traditional LiDAR sensors, which would enable the precision of movement required for hospital settings.
To What Extent Can Technology be Automated?
Smart technology, smart healthcare, and smart delivery can all reduce the risk that COVID-19 brings. And as covered, many of the solutions in development focus on reducing costs while increasing accuracy, reliability, and security. This would solve several challenges.
However, while many of these autonomous technologies could be implemented relatively simply, there is the human element to consider: further engineering, and public understanding, of these revolutionary technologies are required to ensure that people use the technology in a safe and reliable way: one that leads neither to an over-reliance or negligence of the potential of contactless and smart devices. Only then may they deliver on their promises.