Innovators and entrepreneurs in India have quickly responded to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic as innovation in India has soared in recent weeks with several start-ups emerging that are incubated by universities.
Social distancing and contact tracing have become buzzwords in response to COVID-19 around the world. A specific problem after lockdown measures ease, is knowing how to mitigate the spread of the virus in public places such as malls, airports, bus and train stations. A startup based in Kerala, called Asimov Robotics has deployed a fleet of robots at entrances to office buildings and other public places to dispense hand sanitizer and deliver public awareness health messages about the virus. The robots developed by Asimov Robotics are being used in hospital isolation wards to carry medicine and food, easing the pressure on medical staff.
Since ventilators for critical care are in shortage, several startups such as Nocca Robotics, Aerobiosys Innovations, and AgVa Healthcare are creating low-cost and easy to use portable ventilators that can be deployed even in rural areas of India. However, these ventilators need medical approval before they can be introduced to the end user.
Other startups have chosen to help the government’s public information campaign by developing platforms to disseminate government notifications. The Kerala state government has launched an app called GoK-Direct Kerala. It sends out important updates and travel information via phone notifications and SMS to older devices.
The government launched the COVID-19 solution challenge that invites entrepreneurs and innovators to offer solutions and ideas for tackling the pandemic. Similar crowdsourcing platforms from startup incubators like Break Corona have received 1,300 ideas and 180 product solutions within the first two days of their launch. Similarly, volunteers have set up the Coronasafe Network, a real time and open source platform that has details on COVID-19 precautions, tools and responses that serve as a useful starter kit for innovators.
What’s holding remote learning back?
The pandemic triggered a shift to remote work that has been relatively smooth due to most modern offices already using an array of communication and collaboration tools. However, the case is not so similar for remote learning.
Right now, the best technology at our disposal can’t solve some of the inherent problems of remote learning and virtual schools. We examine some of the hurdles in remote learning.
The digital divide is ever-present
An early concern since the start of the pandemic is that low-income students have less access to the internet and to devices, which all directly impact the remote learning strategy. And unfortunately, there has been little evidence to indicate improvement.
A recent survey found that 75% of Black and Latino families that have children in under-resourced schools in Los Angeles do not use computers regularly. It also indicated that 47% of the total parents surveyed had never even visited the Edtech platforms used as part of the remote learning experience.
So, in many cases, even if the technology needed for remote learning is available, children from low-income families have difficulties logging in and utilizing the platform consistently.
The needs of an IT department and students vary
Some of the primary concerns of a university’s CIO or a school’s IT administrator are, how secure is the software, administrator authorization, ease of integration with existing software, and privacy concerns. While students are simply looking for a smooth interface equipped with features that ultimately facilitate the learning experience and make it easier.
As such, several schools or universities simply stick with the software they are currently using. This has created a major issue in remote learning for startups and capital investments, and the pandemic has only made them even more risk-aversive.
Existing tech can’t be just slipped into education
Eric Reicin, President and CEO of BBB National Programs highlights that, “The variety of the tools we use in business… were designed for business and not students”.
With that in mind, it’s important to distinguish that products like Slack, Microsoft Teams or Zoom that have been critical for keeping businesses afloat during the pandemic might be ill-suited for younger students who struggle with usability and have limited attention spans.
This also means that these tools may not necessarily comply with the existing requirements and guidelines that schools have for the education platforms they are currently using.
Tech employment – losses and recovery
In previous articles, we have tackled the impact of the pandemic on various professions and industries. However, there has been a notable surge in innovation and employment in the tech industry.
This may come as a surprise to many. After all, the pandemic shook the foundations of global market overall, and everything with it. While the tech employment market did take a hit, the impact was substantially less than other industries.
Areas of tech such as cybersecurity, data analysis and science, and communication have been more essential than ever since the pandemic began, and reports confirm that tech employment was on the rise well before the pandemic began.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak until July, the number of jobs in the tech sector had risen by 200,000 while people in other sectors were being laid off. Later however, came the decline. According to Indeed, in June, companies began to slowly cut away at the number of IT jobs made available. Tech employment posts were down as much as 36% by the end of July.
According to an analysis by CompTIA of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent study, IT jobs across all sectors have declined by around 134,000.
Technical IT jobs and help desk work seem to be doing slightly better than others. Companies are still trying to navigate the turbulent changes of the pandemic, and the transitions to remote work, and so most companies, even under economic strain, are reluctant to let go of any IT employees.
“Tech’s failure to recover is probably due to the high cost of hiring and firing”, according to Indeed in a statement to ZDnet “While a restaurant may take on workers based on demand experienced over the past two weeks, sectors like tech have much longer planning horizons.”
Contactless tech deployed in restaurant chains amid pandemic
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.
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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