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MedTech

COVID-19 prompts retail innovation

Mounir Jamil

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Retail Innovations

The pandemic has had an extremely influential impact on the way we shop. With a period characterized by lockdown restrictions, mandatory quarantine, curfews, and the closure of many retail stores across the country, the retail industry was left hanging in the balance.

However, in these moments of adversity, retailers began shifting their attention to technology to alleviate some of the problems presented by COVID-19. 

Inside Telecom breaks down some of the most influential and powerful retail innovations that are being deployed today to take the online shopping experience to the next level. 

During the most stringent lockdown measures, the e-commerce scene witnessed an unprecedented boom with shoppers flocking to online stores and platforms to buy goods they could not purchase physically.

Even now, with most of these restrictions alleviated and the majority of brick-and-mortar retail stores having reopened, fears about contamination and infection still loom in peoples’ minds.

Shop owners are eager to gain their customers trust by implementing retail innovations to manage the current risks; customers are also keen on shopping again in an environment that is safe, confident, and hygienic. 

Scan, Pay & Go

Scan, Pay & Go is the name commonly given to technology that allows shoppers to use their smartphones to scan the goods they want to buy as they move around a store, usually via a dedicated app, before paying for them and leaving the store. No queueing or checkout required.

Interests have peaked regarding the Scan, Pay & Go technology a bit before the pandemic spread globally. Even a few supermarket chains have conducted trials for this technology. Now, however, interests have peaked, and the value of this solution has been demonstrated by the pandemic. 

The ability to reduce queues and improve flows around the physical store will directly correlate with fewer chances of shoppers coming in close contact and potentially spreading the virus. 

Smart digital signage 

Markings and stickers placed on the floors of retail stores are a common way to enforce social distancing guidelines and manage the flow of shoppers throughout the store. However, they are a fairly one-dimensional solution. 

Some retailers are now beginning to embrace a more high-tech solution to manage in-store footfall: digital signage.

Samsung Electronics UK has recently partnered up with Quividi, an audience and campaign intelligence platform specializing in digital signage. The goal of the partnership is to create the “next-generation” solution that will keep shoppers safe in-store while they are shopping. 

Samsung will be creating the digital signboard, powered by Quividi’s analytics solutions that work on optimizing in-store safety and security and ultimately help retailers better manage social distancing. 

By making the most out of data capturing devices, such as CCTVs, etc., this technology has the ability of tallying how many customers are in a given store and can also detect if they are wearing a mask or not

In addition to that (and here’s where it gets all 1984) this tech has the ability to utilize thermal scanning to help identify shoppers with a high temperature who might be unaware they have the virus.

The data is analyzed, and the system decides which messages are displayed on the signs via real time triggers and conditional scheduling. 

With privacy and security issues being a pressing concern for several users, retailers need to implement the digital signages in a strategic way to prevent customers from feeling uncomfortable. Retailers have the opportunity to gain valuable insights about foot traffic and customer flow through the data they collect and can in turn use this data to improve store layout and product placing. The signs also offer an additional revenue stream, by displaying adverts and promotional content along with informational messages.

Click-and-collect method 

The pandemic has matured the click-and-collect system, a typically overlooked means of obtaining online orders into a prominent method for reducing in-person contact and decreasing time spent getting online orders. 

The novel click-and-collect experience is currently being tested at several stores, with extensive data and customer feedback being observed to better understand demand. 

While the online boom brought by the pandemic might seem like good news for retailers and a valid opportunity for digital transformation, it has also impacted several retailers’ profit margins due to the increased cost of delivery and logistics. 

By offering click-and-collect, retailers can cut these costs without missing any benefits that online channels have to offer. 

QR codes make a comeback 

QR codes are currently going through a renaissance at the moment in certain sectors like healthcare and hospitality and are being redefined as an effective means of accessing information, tracking movements, and activating virtual experiences. So, it doesn’t come as a surprise to see QR codes as part of the latest retail innovations being deployed in stores and shops. 

QR codes are already well established in digitally advanced countries like China and serve as effective contactless payment method. This usage of QR codes is making its way to the west, where PayPal in the U.S has partnered with Venmo and are rolling out a QR code payment technology across all 8,200 CVS pharmacies all over the country. 

The QR codes will give CVS Pharmacy customers the option of paying for their purchases with stored debit or credit cards, bank accounts, their PayPal balance, PayPal Credit, Venmo balance or Venmo Rewards – as long as they have an account with PayPal or Venmo.

QR codes have also proved their value outside of facilitating payments by acting as a practical means to share business contact info. WhatsApp recently revealed a feature that allows WhatsApp business to create and share QR codes, that when scanned, will initiate a direct WhatsApp chat with the business in question. 

The current pandemic has set the stage for QR codes to take off as a flexible means of conducting transactions. With other advantages such as incorporating discount vouchers, loyalty programs and even virtual storefronts. 

While the current pandemic has brought forward numerous challenges for the retail sector, it has also inspired new retail innovations that can be used for enhanced, safer shopping experiences. 

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MedTech

Wearable tech start-up aims to tackle head injuries in sport

Karim Hussami

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Wearable tech start-up

An Edinburgh-based business recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to help move into production of a technology to safeguard athletes against head injuries.

Based at the Edinburgh Business School (EBS) Incubator within Heriot-Watt University, the technology has been developed by start-up company HIT. The concept is wearable tech which measures and tracks head impact force in sport and recreational activities and is set to aid research and support informed decisions on the risk of brain injury.

Founder Euan Bowen, an avid rugby player, was inspired to develop the technology a teammate was injured. With brain injuries rarely reported, Bowen spotted a gap in the market for sportspeople to track brain health.

Bowen explained: “I found little technology available to monitor head impact, despite the severity of the issue across different sports.

“As a member of a rugby club in Edinburgh, I began researching and developing a project, working closely with the team to develop an initial prototype.”

Featuring a unique impact sensor, wearable across multiple sporting and activity applications, the device universally clips onto any helmet or halo headband, detecting g-force and recording impact via a companion app.

Using a traffic light system, the app records data and acts as an early warning notification for the user regarding the level of impact force recorded – highlighting the caution required in continued exercise.

“High impact sports are focusing increasingly on concussion mitigation with the Field – ‘Football’s Influence on Lifelong Health and Dementia Risk’ – study recently finding that former professionals are three and a half times more likely to die of dementia than the general population,” Bowen noted.

Kallum Russell, manager of the EBS Incubator said: “HIT Impact is a much-needed technology to track and support the current efforts to increase sports safety at a time when governing bodies across high impact sports are increasingly focused on minimizing head trauma.”

The current parliamentary inquiry into concussion recently heard evidence about the long-term implications of repetitive head trauma on sports people with MPs asking how sports could be made safer.

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MedTech

Official: EU agency to confirm AstraZeneca blood clot link

Associated Press

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AstraZeneca blood clot

A top official at the European Medicines Agency says there’s a causal link between AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine and rare blood clots, but that it’s unclear what the connection is and that the benefits of taking the shot still outweigh the risks of getting COVID-19.

Marco Cavaleri, head of health threats and vaccine strategy at the Amsterdam-based agency, told Rome’s Il Messaggero newspaper on Tuesday that the European Union’s medicines regulator is preparing to make a more definitive statement on the topic this week.

Asked about Cavaleri’s comments, the EMA press office said its evaluation “has not yet reached a conclusion and the review is currently ongoing.” It said it planned a press conference as soon as the review is finalized, possibly Wednesday or Thursday.

Based on the evidence so far, Cavaleri said there’s a clear association between the AstraZeneca vaccine and the dozens of rare blood clots that have been reported worldwide amid the tens of millions of AstraZeneca shots that have been given out.

“It is becoming more and more difficult to affirm that there isn’t a cause-and-effect relationship between AstraZeneca vaccines and the very rare cases of blood clots associated with a low level of platelets,” Cavaleri was quoted as saying.

AstraZeneca did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Late in the day, however, the pharmaceutical company and Oxford University, which developed the vaccine, announced they were pausing the trial of their jabs in children while British regulators investigate the potential blood clot link in adults.

“Whilst there are no safety concerns in the pediatric clinical trial, we await additional information” from the British regulator, an Oxford spokesperson said in a statement.

In Geneva, the World Health Organization said its experts were also evaluating a possible link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and rare blood clots — and that it might have a “fresh, conclusive assessment” before Thursday.

In March, more than a dozen countries, including Germany, suspended using AstraZeneca over the blood clot issue. Most EU nations restarted on March 19 — some with age restrictions — after the EMA said the benefits of the vaccine outweighed the risks of not inoculating people against COVID-19. At the time, the EMA recommended the vaccine’s leaflet be updated with information about the rare clots.

Any further doubts about the AstraZeneca vaccine would be a setback for the shot, which is critical to Europe’s immunization campaign and a linchpin in the global strategy to get vaccines to poorer countries. The AstraZeneca vaccine is cheaper and easier to use than rival vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna and has been endorsed for use in over 50 countries, including by the 27-nation EU and the World Health Organization. U.S. authorities are still evaluating the vaccine.

Cavaleri said while EMA was prepared to declare a link, further study was still needed to understand why and how the phenomenon occurs.

He said the rare blood clots, including some in the brain, coupled with a low level of blood platelets that may make people at risk of serious bleeding, “seem to be the key event to study further.” Cavaleri promised more details soon, adding: “In the coming hours, we will say that the link is there, how this happens we still haven’t figured out.”

Cavaleri said the biological mechanism for how the vaccine might be causing the rare clots was still unknown and if it was linked to how the shot is made, other vaccines with similar technologies might also need to be evaluated.

He stressed the risk-benefit analysis remained positive for the AstraZeneca jab, even for young women who appear to be more affected by the clots.

“Let’s not forget that young women also end up in intensive care with COVID. So we need to do very meticulous work to understand if the risk-benefit analysis remains for all ages,” he was quoted as saying.

He ruled out a preventive therapy to address the rare blood clots, saying there is still too much unknown about the phenomenon.

Even after the March 19 restart, the Dutch and German governments suspended the jabs for people under 60 and some Europeans have been shying away from getting a shot.

Romania’s national vaccination committee’s chief, Valeriu Gheorghita, said Tuesday that since March, 207,000 people in Romania had canceled their AstraZeneca vaccine appointments and another 92,000 simply didn’t show up.

“It is a high percentage, a third of people scheduled who did not show up,” Gheorghita told reporters.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson declined to be drawn directly into the latest warnings about the vaccine but urged people to look at the advice from Britain’s independent Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency.

“Their advice to people is to keep going out there, get your jab, get your second jab,” he said during a visit Tuesday to an AstraZeneca facility in Macclesfield, in northwest England.

Last week, Britain’s MHRA said seven people had died in the U.K. due to blood clots after getting the AstraZeneca jab. It said it wasn’t clear if the shots are causing the clot and that it was undertaking a “rigorous review” into the reports. The agency said it had identified 30 blood clot cases out of 18.1 million AstraZeneca jabs given by March 24.

Adam Finn, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Bristol, said the latest surge of COVID-19 cases that is filling up hospitals across Europe should prompt people to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

“If you are currently being offered a dose of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, your chances of remaining alive and well will go up if you take the vaccine and will go down if you don’t,” he said.


ROME (AP) — By NICOLE WINFIELD and PAN PYLAS

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AUB starts U.S.-based company for research on cardiovascular disease

Inside Telecom Staff

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cardiovascular disease

In a MedTech first for the Mediterranean country of Lebanon, a team from the American University of Beirut (AUB) has established a biotech corporation in the U.S. devoted research on biomarkers for cardiovascular disease.

The school told Inside Telecom that team physicians and scientists from AUB have founded the first US-based biotech S-Corporation, Teucer Biotech Inc., centered on an AUB-generated original invention.

Teucer Biotech Inc. is founded around U.S. Patent 10,801,066 issued for the “Determination of risk for development of cardiovascular disease by measuring urinary levels of podocin and nephrin messenger RNA,” with patent positions also issued in Canada, Europe, and Australia.

“We believe we have uncovered a novel clinical biomarker which predicts the development of adverse cardiovascular outcomes (hypertension, acute coronary syndrome, stroke, dementia, peripheral vascular disease, and others) much earlier and with substantially greater prediction power than the earlier currently employed risk predictor, namely “moderate albuminuria (increase albumin in urine),” said Dr. Kamal Badr, AUB professor of internal medicine.

An S-Corporation is akin to a limited liability company or partnership. In general, the corporation itself does not pay any income tax but rather any gain or losses are divided among the partners or shareholders who are then responsible for payment as an individual income tax.

Along with AUB, the company is owned by co-founders Kamal Badr; Assaad Eid, associate professor of anatomy and molecular medicine; Robert Habib, former AUB faculty member and current director of the Society of Thoracic Surgeons Research Center, Chicago, IL, USA; and Joao Lima, professor of cardiology, radiology, and epidemiology, Johns Hopkins University.

Additionally, Dr. Yousif Asfour, chief innovation and transformation officer, represents AUB on Teucer’s Board of Directors, which is chaired by Professor Badr.

“We contend that our findings, once validated across large populations and disease states, will significantly reduce the global burden of cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in the world, by providing a more robust and reliable indicator for pre-clinical systemic vascular injury many years prior to overt cardiovascular events, thereby triggering much earlier behavioral and pharmacological interventions,” added Dr. Badr.

On March 31, 2021, Drs. Kamal Badr, Assaad Eid, and Yousif Asfour presented AUB President Fadlo Khuri with the stock certificate representing AUB’s part ownership of Teucer Biotech Inc.

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