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Contactless tech deployed in restaurant chains amid pandemic

Mounir Jamil

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As we continue adapting to the pandemic, we notice that our needs as consumers are rapidly changing. Not so long ago, standing in-line at a packed fast food chain, waiting to get served, was considered to be the norm in dining experiences; we can evidently see how this scenario can’t be applied in the time of COVID-19. 

Enter contactless tech – a solution that has proven itself to be a fundamental necessity amid the pandemic. Technology teams from several restaurant chains have been trying to implement contactless tech to streamline visits, enhance the customer journey, and ultimately make their employees life easier. 

Various types of contactless tech ranging from QR codes to robots have aided restaurant chains. We break down the top contactless tech ideas that were brought forward by technology chief attendees of Restaurants Rise powered by MUFSO in a panel titled Touchless Tech: How chains are reimagining technology with the use of contactless ordering and the resurgence of QR codes. The panel was sponsored by Ziosk. 

The comeback of QR codes

QR codes which have already been around for a decade or so, started making their way back into the limelight before the pandemic hit, proving their value as a practical type of contactless tech. QR codes have become an integral part for Tocaya Organica, a 16-unit “experiential fast-casual” chain serving Mexican food in California and Arizona that’s part of The Madera Group.

The technology allows guests to point their smartphones at the codes placed on tables, pull up the restaurant menu and order. Each table has a custom QR code, allowing servers to know where to bring the orders once they’re ready. 

Justin Keenen, Tocaya Organica’s Director of Information Technology commented that the team “had to make sure that that experience carried over as much as possible,” as the restaurant chain moved away from traditional counter service to placing an order at the table using QR codes.

Guests can point their phones at the codes on each table, pull up the restaurant’s menu and order. Each table has its own QR code, so servers know where to bring the orders when they’re ready, and Keenen hired the tech company Thanx to build access to the chain’s loyalty program on top of the Olo ordering software, allowing guests to accrue and redeem points from their phone.       

Keenen added that about 80% of the users surveyed provided “overwhelmingly positive feedback,” with the contactless tech being very easy to use.

Geo-tagged pickup

Popular El Pollo Loco, the fast-casual grilled chicken chain with 480 locations has now enabled geo-tagged curbside pickup at 95% of all its locations according to Andrew Rebhun, the chain’s Vice President and Digital Officer.

With curbside pickup being planned for 2021, once the pandemic hit, those plans were expedited. Rebhun and the team worked to launch the service via the El Pollo Loco app this summer, starting with 20 restaurants and quickly scaling up. 

It’s also a contactless tech that is fairly easy to use. Customers opt into GPS tracking, which will then alert the restaurant as they are driving up, allowing the team members to bring their order directly out to the car. 

Guests that don’t want to opt in for GPS, can simply click the “I’m here” button and a crew member will be out with a face mask to deliver the order. 

Vice President of Technology at White Castle (fast food chain with 360 locations) Susan Carroll-Boser told Restaurants Rise attendees that they are currently testing two new technologies at one location in Indiana: Flippy the Robot and a new drive-thru menu board with artificial intelligence

Flippy the robot

The headline grabber is Miso Robotics’ Flippy the robot.

White Castle is deploying the “robot on a rail” mechanism to work the fry station. It operates above the fryer, so it doesn’t bother any team members.

Flippy operates with a smart freezer provided by Computer Vison. This smart freezer controls portions and schedules when items are to be fried, with human team member supervision

AI Powered Drive-Thru Menu Board

The same White Castle branch in Indiana is also testing an AI powered drive-thru menu board. 

By using voice recognition technology from SoundHound, the menu board has the ability to listen and respond to customers. Guests can select a “known-user experience” that allows the AI to recommend items from the menu tailored to them. 

The contactless tech is also capable of performing “basket analysis” and can assess what’s been ordered and make really good suggestions as to what customers might want to add. 

Using voice recognition technology from SoundHound, the menu board can listen to and respond to customers. According to Carroll-Boser, a person can opt into a “known-user experience” that allows the AI to recommend menu items tailored for the customer.

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MedTech

Wearable tech market to more than double in growth by 2026

Inside Telecom Staff

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Wearable tech

Over the years, fitness technology has grown from the bulky fridge-like mainframes to the sleek finesse of fitbits, containing more processing power than the computers that put a human on the moon.

For context, innovative tech has gone from having a dedicated room to a dedicated pocket, allowing us to work, study and monitor our health. 

Which is exactly why wearable tech is regarded as an emerging trend that integrates electronics to the daily activities and fits into the changing lifestyles and can be worn on any part of the body. As such, experts predict that the next market with this same growth potential will be wearable technologies market.

A report from Mordor Intelligence projects that the Wearable Technology Market was valued at USD 27.91 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach USD 74.03 billion by 2026 and work at a CAGR of 17.65 percent over the forecast period (2021 – 2026).

The report published that the ability to connect to the Internet and the establishment of data exchange between a network and a device is the driving factor that led to increases wearable tech. The study considered several wearable technologies, including Smartwatches, Head Mounted Displays, Smart Clothing, Ear Worn, Fitness Trackers, Sleep Aides and wellness devices among others.

The report tracks both the volume and value of these products at a global level and region level in specific. The wearable tech market has evolved owing to the emergence of sensors among other technology.

Incorporating these sensors into a dedicated wearable device driven by the impact of smartphones being used daily, on the GPS, or the IMU (consist of accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer), the report explained, mentioning that they have helped the fitness tracking wearable to monitor body activities using these sensors. 

“The smartwatch category is also experiencing a rise, owing to the additional features, like the brand that suits the everyday lifestyle. Smartwatches are seeing a surge in new users, including the older population, because wearable makers, such as Apple and Fitbit, are adding health-monitoring features that appeal to older people and keep them updated about their health status in real-time,” the Mordor Intelligence report continued.

A perfect example of this is Apple’s features such as a fall detection app and an EKG monitor to the Apple Watch Series 4, while Fitbit added a feature to detect sleep apnea. According to the report, Apple’s 2019 fiscal year noted that it got nearly as much revenue from sales of its collection of wearable products and accessories as it derived from selling its old Mac computers which appears well on its way to becoming its second most significant line of products after the iPhone and its third-largest business category overall after its smartphone and services segment.

The company’s booming wearables and accessories segment helped to make up for the declining iPhone sales. In the period, sales of wearable and accessories products grew 54 percent in the last quarter of 2019 compared to the prior year to USD 6.5 billion, the report further explained.

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MedTech

Chronic heart and kidney failure to be treated by implantable device

Karim Hussami

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implantable device

While all sectors in our lives are being updated with the recent technological trends and ways to facilitate people’s lives, new technologies are being created to help people with their health amongst other issues.

As such, Paragate Medical, an NGT3 VC portfolio company, has developed a remote, implantable device solution for heart and kidney failure patients.

Most remote solutions use telematics to offer some type of remote monitoring, however founders Dr. Yair Feld, Nitai Hanani, and the team at Paragate have developed a solution that monitors and provides 24/7 home-based care to patients coping with chronic heart and kidney failure.

Mechanical bypass of the kidneys

Relatively recent research has shown that heart failure is a significant risk factor for kidney disease. As in, when the heart is no longer pumping efficiently, it becomes congested with blood, causing pressure to build up in the main vein connected to the kidneys and leading to congestion of blood in the kidneys, too.

Diuretics are currently the gold standard treatment but of the 26 million heart failure patients annually around the world, over one third are diuretic resistant, according to CORDIS, EU research results.

“Current solutions for fluid overload in diuretic resistant patients such as IV diuresis, ultrafiltration therapy and peritoneal dialysis all carry complications and are acute treatments which do not prevent recurrence,” the research said.

Paragate’s IPUD (Implantable Peritoneal Ultrafiltration Device) is a minimally invasive and fully implantable device that serves as a mechanical bypass of the kidneys. It actively, continuously, and non-aggressively removes excess fluid from the body to keep patients balanced at home.

How does it work?

IPUD improves the clinical condition of fluid overloaded patients by continuously removing extracellular fluids with a unique implantable peritoneal ultrafiltration device, operating non-aggressively and independently from the kidneys’ function.

The device is minimally invasive and the flat absorption device interfaces with the intraperitoneal membrane and applies a hydrostatic pressure gradient. It then continuously and slowly absorbs systemic isotonic extracellular fluid and drains it to the urinary system preventing recurred accumulation.

The device has a projected service life of 3 years and recharging the device has been made simple for the patients via wireless charging, needed on a weekly basis.

The company conducted successful preclinical studies and is planning to begin the clinical trials this year.

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MedTech

New British technology identifies 800,000 high-risk patients from COVID-19

Inside Telecom Staff

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New British technology identifies 800,000 high-risk patients from COVID-19

A new technology introduced by the UK has helped clinicians identify 800,000 adults who may be at higher risk from COVID-19 contagion and placed them under high priority to receive the vaccine as part of the country’s vaccination program.

This technology – which was developed by subgroup of NERVTAG, led by the University of Oxford and funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) – analyses a combination of risk factors based on medical records, to assess whether somebody may be more vulnerable than was previously understood, helping clinicians provide vaccination more quickly to them and ensuring patients can benefit from additional advice and support.

According to a statement published by the British government, the analysis is made possible via new technology and emerging evidence regarding the impact of the disease on different groups and who could be most vulnerable – which means further steps can be taken to protect those most at risk.

“The model’s data-driven approach to medical risk assessment will help the NHS identify further individuals who may be at high-risk patients from COVID-19 due to a combination of personal and health factors,” Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England Dr Jenny Harries said.

Harries added that this action ensures those most vulnerable to COVID-19 can benefit from both the protection that vaccines provide, and from enhanced advice, including shielding and support, if they choose it.

Up to 1.7 million patients have been identified. Those within this group who are over 70 will have already been invited for vaccination and 820,000 adults between 19 and 69 years will now be prioritized for a vaccination, the government said in its statement.

The patients identified through the risk assessment will be sent a letter from NHS England in the coming days explaining that their risk factors may help identify them as high clinical risk and that they are included within the support and advice for the clinically extremely vulnerable.

“They will be invited to receive a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible if they have not already had the jab, and will be given advice on precautionary measures, including shielding where this is current advice. Their GPs are also being notified,” the British government’s statement explained.

The research – commissioned by England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and funded by the National Institute of Health Research – found there are several health and personal factors, such as age, ethnicity, and body mass index (BMI), as well as certain medical conditions and treatments, which, when combined, categorizes persons as high-risk patients from COVID-19.

“The independent validation from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) is considered the ‘gold standard’ in quality assurance. The ONS has shown that the model performs in the ‘excellent’ range, and accurately identifies patients at highest risk from COVID-19,” Sarah Wilkinson, Chief Executive of NHS Digital, which has been using the model, said.

According to the government’s statement, the University of Oxford had turned their research into a risk-prediction model called QCovid, which has been independently validated by the ONS and is thought to be the only COVID-19 risk prediction model in the world to meet the highest standards of evidence and assurance.

“The QCovid model, which has been developed using anonymized data from more than 8 million adults, provides nuanced assessment of risk by taking into account a number of different factors that are cumulatively used to estimate risk, including ethnicity,” Lead researcher Professor Julia Hippisley-Cox, a general practitioner and Professor of Clinical Epidemiology and General Practice at University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, said.

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