In my article “Imaging the new normal” I covered some of the areas that may change permanently as a result of Covid-19 and how it creates an opportunity to reset the past. In this article I’m going to look at the technologies that will be key if some of these changes are to become permanent.

Supply Chains

The outcome I saw here was an acceleration in the process of “on-shoring” to reduce the reliance on China. The shift of manufacturing to China and other Asia countries is driven primarily by the plentiful supply of cheap labour but with modern automation this needn’t be a factor. Robotics is obviously the first requirement but what other technologies are required to make automation effective and efficient? Certainly AI (Artificial Intelligence) and Machine Learning to optimise workflows but also reliable and fast mobile networking, for many industrial companies that means 5G connectivity. For advanced inspection and process control companies will rely on real time image processing and VR/AR technologies.

Work

It’s already obvious that “home offices” will be the new norm for many people. Recent research by Ofcom has shown Internet usage has surged during lockdown with adults spending a quarter of their waking day on-line. The network in the UK has held up but clearly more capacity is need and so fibre and 5G connectivity will be essential technologies as more and more people work virtually. But, how long before seeing a persons face is not enough? Most communication is through body language after all. This could finally be the turning point for VR/AR technologies as we seek ever more realistic virtual .communication.

Transport

If travel is more restricted, as already discussed, we will be more reliant on the virtual world not just for communication but also for travel. VR/AR will allow us to visit countries and have experiences that we otherwise would not be able to but what about physical travel? Travel needs to become more efficient to minimise travel time and congestion on both public transport and roads. We will need to be more informed about the best way and time to travel so more granular information will be required. The mass deployment of IoT (Internet of Thins) sensors and networks will be required to gather that data and Cloud Computing will be required to make sense of it.

The Environment

CO2 levels have reduced by 8% during the current global lockdown. Governments around the world want to maintain that dividend and not let emissions increase again as restrictions are eased. That means a greater emphasis on electric vehicles. Indeed, Governments are already considering scrappage schemes to incentivise electric vehicle purchase. However, consumers see the range limits of electric vehicles and the availability of charge points as barriers to purchase. Research has shown that range needs to be reliably above 200 miles to mitigate this. While there are plans to increase the number of charge points there are other issues here too. It takes roughly 20-30 minutes to charge a car so you want to be sure a charge point is available and working before you get there. Battery technology is key to solving the range issue and again massive IoT sensor and network deployment is required to use charge points effectively.

The technologies that will drive the new normal then are connectivity in the shape of fibre and 5G, robotics, AI, machine learning, VR/AR, image processing and IoT. But these are all enabling technologies; they provide the structure to make it a reality. It’s what we do with them that matters, the applications we develop that will helps us adapt to the changes we face. How do we harness these technologies in our future product development is the question that needs to be answered.