Top Covid-19 Tech Trends to Watch in 2020

Article By : Anne-Françoise Pelé

Let's Explore the tech trends that have emerged or accelerated due to societal, behavioral, organizational changes amid Covid-19 pandemic...

The Covid-19 pandemic continues to have a profound impact on our everyday lives, on most industries, and the economy in general. Based on her observations and research, Yvonne Lutsch, investment principal, Robert Bosch Venture Capital, explored the tech trends that have emerged or accelerated due to societal, behavioral, and organizational changes induced by the crisis in a keynote at last week’s MEMS World Summit Webinar. Six main trends dominate and shape the business in 2020. Edge computing & 5G The Covid-19 outbreak has disrupted the economy, forcing enterprises to find new work models to ensure business continuity. Not only have business interactions gone mostly digital, but remote work has become the norm for many. “Because of the increased network traffic, we are sure that the adoption of 5G and edge computing will be accelerated,” said Lutsch. China, for instance, has speeded the rollout of 5G to enable data collection, remote diagnosis, real-time monitoring of patient data and use of intelligent robots in hospitals. Other countries are following suit, as 5G demonstrates tangible benefits to many enterprise verticals like e-commerce, logistics, manufacturing, and healthcare. Cloud technologies and adoption The Covid-19 crisis has compelled many companies to adjust their IT infrastructure to become more flexible, resilient, and scalable. For instance, Microsoft said it endeavored to support its customers with the cloud services needed to sustain their operations during this unprecedented time. It consequently observed usage increases in cloud services such as Microsoft Teams, Windows Virtual Desktop, and Power BI. The group even saw a 775-percent increase in Teams’ calling and meeting services in a one month period in Italy. Cloud computing has been around for many years, but the global market is now growing at a steady pace. China’s penetration of public cloud infrastructure is only about 2-3 percent of that of the U.S. and could be a key growth driver, Lutsch said. The demand for data centers —especially in Asia— will also continue to grow after the pandemic, and applications for cross-cloud computing and cloud security are sought after. Biometrics Over the past six months, a host of temperature detection, access control, and related biometric systems to tackle Covid-19 have been developed. Besides fingerprint recognition systems, other biometric technologies like voice, facial, and even vein pattern recognition have entered the market. Contactless biometric technologies have gained momentum as they help verify personal identities without any physical contact with the security infrastructure. By 2026, expects the global contactless biometrics technology market size will reach $18.6 billion, rising at a compound annual growth rate of 19.1 percent. Looking ahead, Lutsch is convinced that further development in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) will overcome identification problems and push biometrics to the next level. The need for early detection of anomalies in public areas as well as contactless identification will notably accelerate the growth. “Biometrics technologies considerably help during pandemics, and we believe that further progress in ML and AI will help better contain future pandemics.” Similarly, many governments have had to use data collected by mobile carriers or apps to track movements of potentially infected people. The collection of personalized data, especially in the U.S. and in Europe, has encountered resistance, but Lutsch is confident that the current situation will change mentalities and generate wider acceptance. Robotics & Automation With social distancing in force and workers’ health the number one concern, robots have taken over and penetrated all aspects of society. Cleaning robots are being used in hospitals, aircrafts, trains, or public transportation for decontamination. Patrol robots in hospitals are checking patients’ temperature, disinfect premises, distribute medication, and serve meals. Even monitoring and security robots have become more common, and drones have been deployed to impose curfews. Civil drone shipments will nearly double from 2020 pre-pandemic forecasts to reach 13,400, and nearly 80,000 shipments are expected to take place in 2025, according to tech market advisory firm ABI Research. Drone delivery also took a step forward when Amazon received late August approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to operate its fleet of Prime Air delivery drones. The approval allows Amazon to “safely and efficiently deliver packages to customers,” the agency said. Walmart, the second biggest retailer in the U.S., followed just a couple of weeks later with the announcement that it would start piloting delivery drones with Flytrex.
Yvonne Lutsch, Bosch USA
A key question remains: Will the Covid-19 pandemic expedite the process of automation? Recent studies have suggested a possible acceleration after companies experienced for weeks or months the vulnerability of processes related to human labor. “Robot process automation and bots can ensure business continuity when human labor is either not available or too expensive, and many people realized that automated production lines are pandemic-free,” Lutsch said. The surge in e-commerce also reinforced the need for warehouse automation. Looking ahead, Lutsch is convinced companies will reduce dependency on human labor and seek to improve cost efficiency through automation. “The decoupling of the world due to trade tensions, protectionism, and travel bans also fueled more distributed automated manufacturing. So, we imagine that there will be more manufacturing back in Europe or in the U.S., but very much automated manufacturing,” noted Lutsch, outlining TSMC’s intent to build a 5nm fab in Arizona. Mobility The mobility segment shows a mix of accelerating and decelerating trends. Starting with individual mobility, Lutsch reminded us that, during the lockdown, “traffic went down to zero, and no one bought any new car.” However, she continued, “when the economy started running again, car sales recovered pretty quickly, especially in places like China where people relied on public transportation and preferred to sit in their personal vehicle to avoid human contact.” China’s new vehicle market indeed continued to recover in August 2020, with sales rising by 11.6 percent to 2.186 million units from 1.959 million units a year ago, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. Consequently, public transportation and shared mobility have been hardly hit as people avoided social contact. Public transportation was only used in urban regions and metropolitan areas because there was no alternative. Micromobility experienced explosive growth on both sides of the Atlantic. While the U.K.’s Bicycle Association revealed that year-on-year sales of new bikes more than doubled in April, the NPD Group reported that, in the U.S., April sales for traditional bikes, indoor bikes, helmets, and parts grew a combined 75 percent, to $1 billion, compared to last year. In the longer term, Lutsch predicts that shared bikes, e-bikes, and scooters might continue to grow as they are an affordable alternative to cars. How about sustainable e-mobility? According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the Covid-19 pandemic will affect global electric vehicle markets, but to a lesser extent than it will affect the overall passenger car market. Based on car sales data during January to April 2020, IEA predicts that the passenger car market will contract by 15 percent over the year relative to 2019, while electric sales for passenger and commercial light-duty vehicles will remain broadly at 2019 levels. As for autonomous vehicles, Lutsch said there may be some delay in the development of self-driving technology “as testing has been temporarily suspended.” Interestingly, AV could experience faster deployments in industrial or warehouse applications. Climate tech Since mid-March, most countries around the world have had to impose strict travel restrictions to contain the virus outbreak. These extraordinary measures have not only put a major halt on economic activities, but they have affected the daily life of citizens and impacted the transport of people and goods. The lockdown or semi-lockdown has led to a sizable improvement in air quality and, more broadly, to a renewed interest and investments in climate tech. In January, Microsoft launched a $1 billion Climate Innovation Fund to reduce and ultimately eliminate its carbon emissions. Six months later, Amazon created a $2 billion Climate Pledge Fund to invest in companies working to build a carbon-free future and revealed Thursday (Sept. 17) the names of the first five recipients of investments. And, as climate change is now a key campaign issue, U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden unveiled plans to spend $2 trillion over the four-year mandate on clean energy and climate-friendly infrastructure projects. This article was first published on EE Times Europe

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