As many sectors of the economy have already been negatively affected by COVID-19, the big ramp up of IoT that we have been anticipating, alongside the growth of 5G and edge computing, may also be in jeopardy. However, IoT may be used to facilitate capabilities such as remote learning, remote health monitoring, working at home, enhanced public safety, and people tracking – much-needed technology for detecting and even helping to fight the disease.

With the global economy in a tailspin, technology providers within the IoT ecosystem are looking for ways to use their skills, software platforms, infrastructure, and connectivity platforms to help fight both the economic and health problems associated with COVID-19.

Some of the areas where IoT is likely to be put to good use include:

  • Smart Detection: People Tracking/video surveillance and facial recognition with location permissions tracked via phone apps (used in China and Israel). HD cameras for body temperature monitoring
  • Smart Healthcare: Remote patient monitoring and telehealth (thermal imaging for contagion monitoring, remote monitoring and diagnosis at home and during patient transfer, smart medical robots to care for quarantined patients)
  • Smart Home: Sinks to control soap and water flow for proper handwashing
  • Smart City/Public Safety: Patrol drones to enforce Shelter-in-Place laws, control centers for food and resource supply management
  • Smart Manufacturing: Remote equipment monitoring/repair, along with machine vision to detect anomalies. Remote command centers/IT and security management. Remote/OTA security and patches for connected equipment in manufacturing, utilities and oil and gas locations.
  • Wearables: Smart watches and fitness trackers for early detection. Smart rings for healthcare workers to track their own temperature and other parameters. Remote/OTA security and patches for wearable devices.

Some of these initiatives are causing legitimate concerns over privacy, as governments (in China and Israel for example) may use technology to control crowds, identify people who have been exposed to the virus through surveillance, AI, facial recognition and video analytics, and even block their access to specific locations. Telecom operators are also involved because these controls are often dependent on exposing location and other personal data on users’ phones.

But the diverse IoT ecosystem is starting to come up with other less controversial approaches to detection, remote access, and monitoring capabilities. Some prime examples:

Operators:

Fixed and mobile operators are understandably seeing larger call volumes and messages than ever before due to the virus – data and video usage are increasing significantly as employees work from home. Operators’ networks are even requiring some “augmentation” via new spectrum resources and equipment. In addition, operators such as AT&T and Verizon have long been involved with tele-medicine, remote learning, collaboration solutions, and public safety communications – all areas that are important for detection and dealing with the pandemic. IoT projects and customer deployments can be repurposed to focus on dealing with the crisis. So far, however, IoT has not been directly tied to fighting Coronavirus in recent blogs or announcements from US operators. China’s three main telecoms operators on the other hand, have been instrumental in implementing the government’s programs to surveil people based on location data, and provide video analytics.

IoT infrastructure providers and SIs:

  • Cisco’s Cybervision platform adds security to IoT deployments in the industrial space, which include manufacturing, utilities, oil and gas and other deployments, providing visibility of assets, analytics and insights, and alerts triggered by anomalies. As employees work from home (and as hackers may have more time on their hands) companies need to keep these kinds of facilities up and running remotely. The risk of security breaches is also going up, with unwarranted entry into machines and process modification or stoppage by hackers already a reality, but potentially exacerbated due to the pandemic. Cisco’s Zero Trust remote access solutions can assure that only authorized users have access to resources.
  • The IBM Clinical Development system has been made available without charge to national health agencies to reduce the time and cost of clinical trials by providing data and analysis from web-enabled devices.
  • During its quarterly Emerging Business briefing to analysts on March 25th Ericsson had an optimistic view of its IoT business, noting that IoT would also ultimately prove important to combating COVID-19, but without examples specific to the outbreak.

Drone companies:

Not surprisingly the use of drones has increased due to the outbreak. According to a GlobalData thematic report on Consumer Electronics and COVID-19, the use of drones to assist with efforts against the coronavirus began in China, but other countries have also followed. They have been used in China to disinfect streets and ones with loudspeakers have been used to chide citizens out on the streets to get back inside and self-isolate. Spain and the US – and presumably many others soon – have followed China’s lead. Drones have also been used to deliver medical samples. Drones have been particularly beneficial for medical deliveries because they allow the amount of contact with humans to be reduced.

Smart cities:

Some cities are taking measures into their own hands along with technology partners. For example Seat Pleasant, a city of 5,000 people in Maryland, is partnering with Amazon, Sprint, EagleForce and Freedmen’s Health on a $200 million disease surveillance and chronic disease management telehealth system, allowing residents access to prescription data and connections with telehealth physicians. The program will also provide telehealth tablets, mHealth devices (including temperature monitors) and free Internet access to elderly and low-income residents.

Clearly companies that make up the IoT ecosystem are rapidly implementing their own remote working programs internally and are scrambling to make sure that the virus doesn’t significantly disrupt their long-term business plans. We are sure that they will also work to repurpose some of these technologies more overtly to help combat the pandemic.

GlobalData recommends they use this messaging – i.e. that IoT is a fundamental technology that can help with the pandemic. This is not to make them appear to be capitalizing on a terrible situation, but to make sure that customers realize that IoT can be used in disease detection and prevention.

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