by Pranesh Chaudhary, Founder and CEO, ZunRoof
Those who have travelled via air recently, after the lockdown restrictions were lifted, have invariably marvelled at how smooth and efficient a contactless airport can be. Passengers are now required to print their own boarding passes and luggage tags and are even encouraged to drop their luggage themselves on the carousel. They don’t have to handover a boarding pass to anyone before boarding the flight; it is all done via automatic scanners. Bathrooms and public toilets are automatic taps and soap dispensers; minimizing the need for touching any surface lest anyone catches the virus.
The contactless airport experience has also been replicated at several progressive hotels and restaurants. Guests can now self-check-in to their rooms without needing any bell boy’s help; and many restaurants are asking patrons to view menu on their own smartphones. Now imagine the same contactless experience is enabled in all public spaces where a large number of people are forced to come in close proximity with each other.
If there is one bright side of this ongoing battle with Covid-19 pandemic; it is how technology-led innovation has helped enable contactless operations in public spaces, which have gone a long way in allowing businesses and economies to continue ticking and avoid remaining completely shut.
Thanks to the widespread adoption of Internet of Things (IoT) technology, along with ubiquitous availability of high-speed Internet and WiFi connectivity in most urban areas of India; we now have offices, public transport services, co-living spaces, restaurants and even shopping malls operating in the contactless mode. But how has this been possible? Let’s find out.
Reimagining co-existence with IoT and AI
Soon after the pandemic-related restrictions started easing, it was clear that merely washing or sanitising hands and wearing masks was not going to control the spread of the virus, especially in public places that were still drawing crowds at that time. This included airports, factories, shops, hospitals and clinics. The novel coronavirus had a tendency to linger on exposed surfaces and as long as people were unnecessarily touching doors, pressing buttons or turning toilet faucets with their hands, they carried the risk of unwittingly catching the virus.
But there was a way out. Well before the pandemic struck, several IoT innovators and tech companies had developed IoT based smart devices for residential use; including bulbs and plugs that can be switched on or off or doorbells that can be answered remotely via smartphones. Thanks to the widespread availability of these smart home products from a large number of companies, it was entirely possible for a homeowner to create a zero-contact experience for the family if they so desired.
With the arrival of the pandemic, the same IoT-based smart devices were quickly acknowledged as a feasible solution for delivering true contactless experience even in the commercial or public environment. Already, most public places including offices and retail stores were desperately seeking ways to minimize the frequent touching of surfaces – doors, lights and taps. The match between smart devices and pandemic safeguards appeared made in heaven.
Start-ups enabling surveillance and contactless delivery in India
India’s tech start-up ecosystem also rose to the challenge and came up with several innovations to achieve contactless operations. Leading e-commerce marketplace Snapdeal had partnered with a robotics startup and successfully tested last-mile shipments delivery using robots. This model of IoT and AI-enabled delivery, where orders placed by users are sanitized and delivered by a robot is the first time for any brand in India.
On the other hand, many shopping malls have enabled safe monitoring of customer entry through smartphone apps. It is now possible to enter and exit malls simply by flashing a ‘mall pass’ on the phone, so that mall security guards don’t have to come in close proximity for check-in or check-out. To curb the risk of infection in malls, restaurants, companies in India have developed software that use existing closed-circuit television cameras and thermal cameras to determine whether social distancing is being maintained and monitors body temperatures in real-time.
HomeTech company ZunRoof has secured over 50,000 orders from commercial buyers for its zunpulse range of smart IoT devices, which include smart video cameras, plugs, bulbs and even remote controls for AC or TV. These orders have come from hospitals, restaurants, co-working or flexible office providers and even co-living companies. At the same time, many large developers and real estate companies are now installing these smart devices in the common areas of their buildings to minimize risk of virus transfer.
AI and IoT have facilitated many revolutionary tech interventions that have led to skilled and efficient monitoring of all public activities with a thorough contactless support. The main challenge lies in discerning the asymptomatic people who visit offices, restaurants, malls, hospitals, which is why real estate developers and office management companies are making significant investments in technologies that can automatically accurately detect people’s body temperature from a distance.
Mitigating virus risks
Offices are in particular most vulnerable to spread of coronavirus as contact with common surfaces in a shared working space is difficult to rule out. Still, modern tech-enabled interventions are immensely helpful in reducing the risk of exposure.
Many companies are using thermal screening at office entrances to enable automatic opening and closing of doors for healthy employees – the doors remain shut for those whose body temperature exceeds a specific threshold. For workplaces who are already using thumb-based biometric entry-exit systems, adopting AI and IoT sensor-enabled sliding doors is a logical progression to mitigate the employees’ safety risks. Even lifts can be made contactless using modern IoT solutions, allowing passengers to press the buttons via their own smartphone app.
Ultimately, AI and IoT have together played a stellar role in helping organizations resume their day to day activities, even in the middle of a raging pandemic, without compromising people’s personal health and safety. By helping offices, airports, hotels and restaurants to resume operations, these technologies have also ensured that we are no longer deprived of social interactions anymore – people can go out and carry on with their lives with much less fear of catching the virus.