The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the entire human race in a way that has no parallel in recorded history. As things continue to unfold before our eyes each day, the full impact and scale of how this situation affects our lives will only be clear once the dust has settled. But what can be said without a shade of doubt is this: our lives will never be the same again. All things considered, this line does not necessarily have a negative connotation to it – for challenges are almost always accompanied by opportunities to grow, to thrive, to prove one’s self, and to discover what no one has. So let’s discuss some of the changes that we can expect to see in some prominent industries, and how the current situation can be viewed in the form of an opportunity rather than a challenge.

Getting back to work:

Work and office set up is in a total upheaval. As the routine 9-5 arrangement is disrupted, this is probably the largest social change, so to speak, that has been witnessed for many decades. No surprises, then, that to ensure all semblance of normalcy in daily lives, Work from Home came into effect immediately.

Even though Working from Home is now the new norm, once the dust settles it won’t be long before companies arrive at more of a hybrid arrangement for work spaces which will be powered by Digital Twins. Digital Twins are expected to play a critical role for the workforce once lock-down restrictions are lifted, as they have been designed to keep the occupants productive and safe. With the relevant technology now easily available, Digital Twin solutions will soon become over-the-counter, essential solutions for building owners as they add that critical layer of safety to their properties.

The first step in transitioning people slowly back to their offices will be to reduce and effectively monitor overall building occupancy. If the number of people present in the building is temporarily reduced, it will offer a large degree of comfort to the occupants. As Digital Twins offer an inbuilt Indoor Positioning System (IPS), they can establish a 6 foot detection radius that would offer alerts (to the users as well as the admin) every time the radius is breached or is closed to being done so.

As suggested by JLL(one of the leading real estate companies in the US) in one of its reports, “People protection and wellness are the priority. Wellness needs to be put at the forefront as a basic corporate duty of care to employees and to ensure workplace productivity. Your buildings can also act as barriers to contamination. In the longer term, ‘building health’ (including building ventilation, air filtration, and cleaning) and facilities / management preparedness will all become increasingly important.”

A massive development in this regard has been the People Counter, an intelligent occupancy sensor that has been created to look at occupancy levels as well as count the number of people that are in a space at any given time. Combine that with the body thermal tech that is being deployed in many buildings, we can create a zone that meets the minimum requirement of being safe for the workforce. Not only can a digital twin aid social distancing through occupancy sensors, it can also ensure optimized energy use.

Just like aircraft, it is also expected that buildings will soon be commissioned by regulatory authorities to ensure that they meet the new and enhanced safety requirements. In the current scenario, you can’t be too careful. Commissioned buildings, it is expected, will ensure that there is enough fresh air circulating, that correct filters are installed and replaced on time.

Even details as minute as placing sensors on soap dispensers and hand sanitizers that will determine the fill level automatically and then notify the maintenance staff as soon as the threshold value is breached and refilling is required can become a part of the larger Digital Twin or smart building system.

The sensors to make that happen have been available for a while now. A platform where all of this information can be properly integrated are the smart buildings and digital twins that are now becoming the norm.

It is then safe to say that commercial buildings at large and offices in particular are expected to undergo a ‘Digital Twin’ revolution.

Data Visualization:

With critical decisions needing to be made and implemented at a rapid pace to contain the pandemic, it is important to be able to understand the available data in as intuitive and insightful ways as possible. Often users and decision makers get overwhelmed by the vastness of data that is presented to them. This leads to confusion and eventual ineffective decision making. One way to resolve this issue is to visualize the data that is available. Data, when visualized, can help us identify trends that we otherwise would have missed out. With the COVID-19 pandemic spreading rapidly across geographies, it will be all the more important to be able to:

  • Geo-tag the areas that are worst affected
  • Trace the origins of the virus in a certain community
  • Implement effective lockdowns
  • Issue guidelines to people as to which areas to avoid
  • Track the previous movement of people whose results just came out positive
  • Ensure that social distancing is being maintained and unnecessary gatherings are avoided using heat maps,

For ensuring all of the above, an application providing an overview using 3D maps and Digital Twin models of not only specific areas and buildings but entire cities can come in very handy. Heat maps in particular can help identify critical COVID-19 hotspots and ensure that they can be avoided by the general public, and the worst hit areas can be quarantined. With data converted to a visualized form, and sensors providing real time information, such applications can ensure that the virus is localized within specific areas and is tracked, traced and duly contained. Some excellent data visualizations have come forth which help us understand this situation much better. The better we understand it, the better we will be equipped to tackle it.

This is a great opportunity for developers to produce apps and comprehensive platforms that aid in the containment and tracking the spread of this virus. Luckily we now have the technology required to build such helpful tools and make a difference.

Retail Industry:

The report by JLL, mentioned earlier in this article, states that “Retailers with the infrastructure to fulfill online orders through home delivery are currently being perceived as beneficiaries of consumers’ reluctance to visit stores and we are seeing an increased conversion of people to online. Greater emphasis will be placed on the shift towards a flexible omni-channel retail model and sustainable fulfillment”. This shows that the paradigm shift we all knew was in the making, has only been hastened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Due to serious health risks, malls and shopping areas were one of the first to be shut down. Demand fluctuations resulted in the supply chains being badly affected, and even the markets not under lock-down witnessed a dramatic decrease in footfall. While some sectors witnessed a demand fall, others saw a steep and surprising increase. Lesser affected were those businesses that had some sort of online or e-commerce presence.

As times move on, it is expected that maintaining a virtual presence will become a norm, or even mandatory for retail businesses. In this regard, WRLD recently partnered with InMall to create a state of the art app for Android and iOS users which provides a revolutionary shopping experience. The app not only had a reliable user experience, but was also fun, engaging, and full of rewards. With your avatar, you can walk inside the mall in a 3D view, view the shops as they are laid out, and even see the special discounts on offer. You don’t have to be in a mall to have that mall-like experience.

The app has ensured that the mall has an alternate, VR version ready to be put to use, where users can roam around the mall (albeit in a virtual form) and pick and choose the items that they need. This is definitely the next best thing as it ensures that the show keeps on rolling and business does not grind to a total halt. If your brick and mortar presence is forced to shut down, you only have to open up the virtual shop to make sure it’s business as usual.

Hospitality Industry:

One of the industries to suffer most from the sudden COVID-19 outbreak has been the hospitality industry. With travel restrictions all around the globe, it is going to take a while for consumers to feel safe and restore their trust in hotels. What would, however, hasten the opening of hotels and make the consumers at ease during their stay will be the knowledge that their hosts are taking every precaution to ensure social distancing among all those present on their site. An Indoor Positioning System (IPS), the likes of which was implemented by WRLD at ATELIER de Hoteles is a good example of that. The radius created through the IPS can ensure that effective social distancing is taking place.

What the future holds

Although things may seem incredibly uncertain at the moment, we can still all find solace in the resilience of the human race. The way the entire world has come together in this moment of crisis speaks volumes of our collective will to make things better for each other. Overcoming this pandemic is not a question of if but rather a question of when. Pandemics are nothing new to the human race - but this time we have technology on our side to fight back, to reduce losses, and to get back on our feet quicker and more agile.

In coming weeks we will be analyzing more industries that have been affected adversely by the COVID-19 pandemic, and how they can get back on their feet as quickly as possible using the available technological resources at our disposal.