10 technologies that will spark innovation in the post-COVID-19 world


Industries are increasingly turning to innovation as they’re getting ready for a new reality in the post-pandemic world.

  • Cafe introduces robot barista to comply with social distancing rules
  • Germ-Zapping robot uses UV light to disinfect surfaces within a 2 metre radius
  • Automated store in Finland makes shopping faster, easier, and safer 
  • Delivery drones in rural areas could transform the logistics industry 
  • Autonomous robots help restaurants with food delivery 
  • Self-driving vehicles finally get their time to shine
  • VR meeting service takes remote work to the next level 
  • NLP technology offers untapped opportunities for post-pandemic healthcare 
  • Contactless orientation solution improves onboarding in construction
  • IoT system tracks the number of people in a store

Often described as a once-in-a-century event, it didn’t take long before the coronavirus pandemic grew from a health crisis into an economic disaster as well. Some experts even argue that the economic downfall we’re now experiencing will be worse than the Great Recession of 2008. As one country after another went into lockdown, turning our lives upside down, many companies started looking for new innovative ways to operate and interact with their customers. 

Although tech adoption is often seen as a key factor in any industry’s success, before the outbreak many sectors had been rather slow in embracing new technology. In the post-pandemic world, however, that is set to change and it is expected that many industries will now transition to increased automation faster. A recent survey by advisory firm Ernst & Young, which included leaders from 45 countries, indicates that 41 per cent of respondents are already investing in automation to prepare for the post-crisis period. To help you stay at the forefront of these trends, we have prepared a list of the top 10 technologies that will not only help businesses to merely survive but even thrive in the post-pandemic environment. 

Cafe introduces robot barista to comply with social distancing rules

Since avoiding close contact with other people is still the most effective way to prevent the virus from spreading, some businesses are replacing human workers with robots. A cafe in Daejeon, South Korea, recently unveiled their newly appointed robot barista. Developed by Vision Semicon, the system consists of a robotic arm and a serving robot. The robobarista doesn’t require any human input and is capable of handling drink orders and serving the beverages completely autonomously. The cafe does however have a human staff member in charge of making pastries and refilling the robot once it’s out of coffee ingredients. The robobarista can make 60 different kinds of coffee, and according to Reuters, it takes seven minutes to make and deliver an order of six coffees.

Germ-Zapping robot uses UV light to disinfect surfaces within a 2 metre radius

As hotels, restaurants, and other venues are starting to re-open, there’s a great deal of pressure on cleaning companies to make sure everything is clean and safe. Crowded places like markets, bus stations, and malls are being cleaned several times a day, which is a lot of work. And with various social distancing guidelines in place, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for human workers do their work efficiently. The US company Xenex believes its LightStrike robot could solve this problem. Already deployed in 600 hospitals around the world, the robot can also be used in other environments, and is suitable for spaces of various shapes and sizes. As COVID-19 began to spread all over the world, the company experienced a huge rise in demand for its technology, particularly from countries like Italy and Japan. LightStrike uses ultraviolet light to kill bacteria and viruses. The light can sterilise all surfaces within two metres, which is not only quicker, but also more effective than traditional cleaning methods.

Automated store in Finland makes shopping faster, easier, and safer 

While some retail stores are now enforcing social distancing rules by limiting the number of people inside a store at the same time and making sure they stand at a proper distance from one another, others are taking a more innovative approach. To respond to consumers’ demands for more convenience during and after the pandemic, the Finnish company Neste opened an automated grocery store named Easy Deli, the first of its kind in Europe. To use the store’s service, customers need to download an app. In the store, they place their products on a self-checkout scanner, after which they can simply walk out. Using RFID technology, the scanner only takes a few seconds to scan all the products at once and can even identify items through shopping bags. 

Delivery drones in rural areas could transform the logistics industry 

The coronavirus outbreak has also led to an increased demand for drone delivery. Delivery drones are cost-effective, environmentally friendly, and limit unnecessary human contact. During the worldwide lockdowns, Ireland-based drone delivery startup Manna started using its drones to deliver essential items like groceries and medication to those in need. The lockdowns have been particularly hard on people in rural communities, because they often don’t have access to a grocery store or a pharmacy. After discussing the issue with Ireland’s Health Services, Manna decided to pilot its service in Moneygall, a small village with a population of around 1,000 people. Capable of carrying up to four kilograms of weight, Manna’s drones were used to deliver between 20 and 50 packages per day. Soon after the launch, Manna expanded its delivery offerings, enabling the villagers to also order non-essentials like cake or pizza and have them delivered to their doorsteps.

Autonomous robots help restaurants with food delivery 

Like drones, robots have also proven to be capable of making deliveries faster and smarter during the pandemic, and will continue to do so in the years to come. To minimise person-to-person contact, four restaurants in Ann Arbor, Michigan, recently started using food delivery robots. Developed by Refraction AI, a University of Michigan startup, the REV-1 robot is equipped with 12 cameras and ultrasound to navigate the streets and deliver food without jeopardising anyone’s safety. To request a delivery, customers place their order through Refraction AI’s app, after which the company notifies the restaurant and sends the robot. Once the restaurant processes the order, the robot is unlocked with a code. With the ordered meals loaded into hot bags, the robot is then locked again and sets off to complete the delivery. 

It’s time for self-driving vehicles to shine

While self-driving cars have not yet taken their rightful place as rulers of our roads, the coronavirus and its aftermath are giving autonomous vehicles a real opportunity to prove their worth. CVS Pharmacy, the largest retail pharmacy in the US, recently joined forces with robotics delivery startup Nuro to launch a new pilot project. Set to start in June 2020, the partnership will see Nuro’s self-driving vehicles deliver prescriptions to CVS customers. “We want to give our customers more choice in how they can quickly access the medications they need when it’s not convenient for them to visit one of our pharmacy locations,” explains Ryan Rumbarger, senior vice president for store operations at CVS Health. Nuro’s vehicle is fully autonomous. It can detect stop signs, traffic lights, pedestrians, and cyclists, which allows the vehicle to safely navigate the traffic.

VR meeting service takes remote work to the next level 

The coronavirus crisis has also forced companies to invest in tools that can make remote work easier. While many people still use Zoom, Skype, and Slack to host meetings and communicate with their teams, true productivity requires taking things a step further and adopting even more innovative solutions. Taiwanese smartphone developer HTC recently unveiled a new VR meeting service called VIVE Sync. By putting on a VR headset, remote workers can immerse themselves in a virtual environment and attend meetings with up to 30 colleagues, where each participant is represented in the form of an avatar. Attendees can retrieve files from cloud storage, stream them to other participants in the meeting, and even view the material in 3D. As countries start loosening restrictions, many people are going back to traditional office work. Remote work is however expected to become increasingly prevalent in the future, which is why tools like VIVE Sync will see an increase in popularity and demand, even after things have gone back to some version of ‘normal’.

NLP technology offers untapped opportunities for post-pandemic healthcare  

The healthcare sector has been hit hard by the coronavirus. Besides having to cope with severe shortages in terms of medical staff and equipment, hospitals around the world have also been struggling to maintain their regular services. To reduce the need for in-person treatment and keep in touch with their patients remotely, some healthcare providers have turned to remote communication technologies. University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) joined forces with telehealth startup Abridge to implement technology that records virtual consultations between doctors and patients. Once the consultation is over, the tool uses NLP to identify important notes and creates a summary that patients can access using the Abridge app. The main goal of the tech is to help patients better understand their diagnosis and treatment. UPMC has also expressed plans to integrate these summaries into electronic health records to improve healthcare coordination. 

Contactless orientation solution improves onboarding in construction

Practising social distancing will probably continue to be the norm for the foreseeable future. Besides retail stores and factory floors, construction sites are also among those that have had to comply with new safety recommendations. The construction software platform MindForge recently added a new feature that allows construction companies to safely onboard new employees. Onboarding in construction is typically done through group classes and training. MindForge’s contactless orientation feature however eliminates the need for in-person contact by allowing construction site managers to introduce new employees to relevant procedures using an online portal. The portal can be used to send workers instructional videos and safety materials, and the system will track whether they have watched the entire video. The software also makes use of quizzes and questionnaires to determine how much of the information the worker has retained.

IoT system tracks the number of people in a store 

Many countries around the world are starting to ease lockdown measures. Businesses have been allowed to re-open, but they’re advised to limit the number of people inside. To help businesses follow these guidelines, the tech company Akenza AG has developed an IoT system that can measure people traffic and flow within a store. This data is accessible to store managers as well as consumers. Customers can use the app to check the store traffic data and identify the best time to shop. Besides ensuring the safety of employees and customers, Akenza’s tool can also help with space optimisation. Store owners can use the collected data to understand which spaces are underused and need to be reorganised. 

Tech adoption during the pandemic and beyond 

The coronavirus pandemic has greatly accelerated tech adoption within the retail sector. A number of retail stores are now turning to contactless solutions, while robots and drones are taking over delivery processes. VR is transforming remote work and will continue to do so in the future by enabling teams from all over the world to work together in a shared virtual environment. As soon as things are starting to go back to some type of ‘normal’, expectations are that companies across industries will accelerate their digitalisation efforts as part of the recovery process. This seems to be the perfect timing for sectors to rebuild their operations around innovative technology. 

This article is written by Richard van Hooijdonk

This article is written by Richard van Hooijdonk

Trendwatcher, futurist and international keynote speaker Richard van Hooijdonk takes you to an inspiring future that will dramatically change the way we live, work and do business.

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