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    Smart systems for a more resilient future

    How IoT systems can help cope with COVID-19 and its aftermath

    What will it take to recover fully from the effects of COVID-19? Effective prevention and treatment, to be sure, but there are also psychological and emotional aspects. People will have to feel that their health is assured in environments outside of the home, and that they can trust the managers and operators of those environments to keep them safe and to rapidly respond to new problems as they occur.


    Smart technology can help. Especially in the tricky phase before mass vaccination but after restrictions start to ease, Internet of Things (IoT) applications can play a key role, putting us in a better position to ride out this health crisis—and to better handle the next one if and when it comes.

    The disinfectant virtues of UV-C

    Safe spaces start with decontamination. And one powerful way to decontaminate the places that we inhabit, from offices to stores to public transport facilities and beyond, is by deploying ultraviolet-C (UV-C) light.

    UV-C is one of the three types of UV light that the sun produces. Unlike UV-A and UV-B, however, the earth’s atmosphere blocks it before it reaches us at ground level—a lucky thing, since direct exposure to UV-C can harm human tissue.

    What makes it damaging to our skin and eyes, however, also makes it an excellent germicide. Signify and other makers have long effectively used it in devices that disinfect everything from drinking water to air to surfaces to shared devices such as headsets.

    UV-C is as useful against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, as it has been against other dangerous microbes. In laboratory testing, Signify’s UV-C light sources reduced SARS-CoV-2 virus infectivity on a surface to below detectable levels in as few as nine seconds.1

    The challenge is in using UV-C in a way that’s safe for people—and that’s where lighting controls come in. Upper air disinfection can occur while people are present, because the UV-C luminaires are directed upwards to the ceiling, but surface disinfection can be safely done only when a space is unoccupied. Consider a conference room where employees have gathered, at a safe social distance, for an important strategy meeting. As the last attendee files out at meeting’s end, motion sensors alert the system that the coast is clear. Then UV-C luminaires do their work, disinfecting the room before employees use it again. If someone randomly ducks into the room at an unscheduled moment, the system will swiftly and automatically turn itself off.

    Those sensors will also turn lights on and off without requiring people to touch switches, those small but treacherous vectors of contagion.

    Managing space efficiently and safely

    In pandemic conditions, the more space each of us has, and the more consciously we occupy it, the safer we’ll be.


    Here too IoT technology can play a role. Smart indoor navigation and tracking applications have for some time now ensured that office workers can use their workspaces efficiently and in a maximally hassle-free manner. With easy-to-use apps on their phones, workers can identify which meeting rooms are conveniently empty or find their way to colleagues’ offices without taking wrong turns. They can use that same tech to locate open workspaces in offices without assigned seating and even to book space before they leave home. They can use it to find mask and sanitization stations.


    So far, so good. But in the COVID-19 era, when finding a workspace in an uncrowded part of a building can be a matter of grave importance, such tech can also help keep people healthy. An employee who doesn’t get lost has fewer chance encounters with other people. A color-coded map on a smartphone that shows a staffer where the crowded parts of the office are isn’t only a convenience: it could be a lifesaver.


    And thanks to data, different parts of an office can be subjected, in a most efficient way, to different disinfectant regimes depending on how heavily they are used. Data can inform safer office design, too. Stronger ventilation systems or extra windows can be built into those places where more people tend to congregate.


    At the same time, the pandemic-driven work-from-home phenomenon will have a real, if as yet undetermined, effect on demand for office space. Even if the office isn’t “over,” as some have perhaps prematurely claimed, it stands to reason that office populations will to some extent shrink. Space management applications can give decision-makers a real sense of usage levels over time, replacing speculation with hard data to inform their long-term planning.


    Incidentally, such IoT-powered mitigation efforts from employers will pay dividends in recruitment and retention. A company that puts smart solutions to work in safeguarding its workers’ health and well-being is probably a good one to work for in general.

    A new future for in-store retail

    Smart tech will also play a big role as brick-and-mortar retail recovers from the pandemic. Tracking applications will help store managers keep numbers of shoppers at safe levels, without guesswork or the need to station employees with counters and hand sanitizer by the door. Wayfinding applications that load customized maps onto shoppers’ phones will lead them directly to the items they’re seeking and then get them out of the store fast, for safety’s sake.


    And just as at the office, data will improve how stores are physically designed—again, in the interest of stopping the spread.

    Optimizing industry for pandemic security

    Industry, too, will profit from IoT tech as we recover.


    In factories, warehouses, and other facilities, the predictive maintenance capacities of connected technology, which enables sensor-equipped machines to warn that they’ll soon need service, will make intervention by human workers less necessary. That will cut down on the chance of transmission that human presence can, in this crisis, unfortunately bring. No more will human employees have to cruise vast logistical facilities searching for dead lightbulbs. Smart lighting systems will indicate to them exactly which lamp among thousands is on the blink or getting there, and lead them to it.


    In addition, the data that connected systems collect will help industrial managers cut fat and in general improve operations in a growing number of ways. The result will be to give industrial systems that resiliency that’s crucial during a pandemic—or any other disruptive event.


    The data that connected systems collect will also help industrial managers improve operations in general, in a growing number of ways. The main benefits will address the challenges in warehousing and logistics that are caused by acceleration of e-commerce because of pandemics. Space management technologies, such as heatmaps that visualize the usage of a space, can give valuable insights to optimize the order-picking processes, and can help business run ABC analysis and other efficiency processes in a smart, data-driven way.

    New trends in healthcare and beyond

    In healthcare, meanwhile, connected equipment in homes can diagnose people without forcing them out to clinics, hospitals, and other places where they can infect others, or get infected. Automated fever-screening kits can gauge workers’ temperatures as they enter buildings. Geofencing technologies can help to maintain necessary quarantine regimes. Automated “access control” corridors will disinfect people and monitor their health as they enter shared spaces.


    And that’s just the beginning when it comes to the connected innovations that will help get us regain normality as the current crises eases—and that will help us control the effects of the next. Indeed, if there’s been a “bright side” to this crisis, it’s in showing that human ingenuity isn’t helpless in the face of it. As tech has risen in general to the COVID-19 challenge—by making possible, for example, a largely successful transition to at-home work—IoT applications in particular are pointing the way out of the lockdown era and toward a more secure and resilient future.

    1- Nadia Storm et alRapid and complete inactivation of SARS-CoV-2 by ultraviolet-C irradiation, 2020. Subject to peer review and available only as a pre-print at The UV-C irradiance used in this study was 0.849 mW/cm2.

    About the author

    Jonathan Weinert, IoT and Connected Lighting, Signify
    Award-winning writer Jonathan Weinert has been been researching and reporting on LED lighting, connected lighting, and the IoT since joining Signify in 2008. 

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