They say that necessity is the Mother of all invention – and so it is with COVID-19, which has given rise to an extraordinary new generation of digital innovations, start-ups and services that never existed before. From the weird and wonderful to real life savers, the pandemic has proven that human ingenuity, creativity, and innovation can never be extinguished – even in the face of human misery and economic hardship.
The need for social distancing in almost all public spaces has resulted in the creation of a vast array of innovative solutions – a particularly troublesome requirement in cafes, restaurants and retail outlets that rely upon footfall. Some of the more tongue-in-cheek ideas include a German café that has made hats from swimming pool noodles as a fun way to guarantee social distancing: if somebody else invades your space with their noodle, they’re too close for COVID.
The international budget superstore, Lidl, has introduced an online chatbot that helps shoppers find the quietest times. All customers need to do is send a message to Lidl via WhatsApp and, using real-time data from customer transaction volumes, the store will instantly let you know if it is a quieter / average / busier time to visit.
Hospitality health and safety
The hospitality industry has been particularly hard it, which is why hotels and tourist destinations have been forced through necessity to come up with new ways to operate within the new normal of social distancing and sanitisation. At Shurooq’s Hospitality projects like Al Bait hotel and Sharjah Collection hotels, including Kingfisher Retreat, Al Faya Retreat and Al Badayer Retreat, public spaces such as the front desk, lobby, water fountains, vending machines and door handles are thoroughly cleaned and sanitised frequently with disinfectant. Guest arrival safety protocols are comprehensive, with mandatory temperature checks on all guests, contactless payments are encouraged, and all keys, scanners and payment machines are thoroughly cleaned and sanitised after every single use. Each guest is also required to fill in a 30-day medical history upon arrival.
All Shurooq destination – including Al Montazah Parks, Al Qasba, Al Majaz Waterfront, Al Noor Island, The Flag Island, Heart of Sharjah, Mleiha Archaeological & Ecotourism Project, Khorfakkan Beach, Maraya Art Centre and 1971-Design Space - have reopened. Public parks are essential for community cohesion and physical and mental health. These spaces – and all Shurooq destinations – are safe thanks to the implementation of comprehensive sterilisation procedures that strictly adhere to the health and safety protocols issued by the UAE government. Signs and stickers have been pasted on the floor next to each entertainment feature in the park to guide visitors to maintain a two-metre distance from each other while waiting for their turns.
In addition to sterilisation booths, thermal cameras are in place to monitor the temperature of every visitor entering the destination. Medical teams are also on hand to deal with emergency cases, along with a supervisory team charged with ensuring that all precautions are complied with, including the use of face masks and gloves, and discouraging gatherings.
Innovating against the virus
It is in the pursuit of safety where the greatest examples of human endeavour can be found. Right around the world, revolutionary techniques are being adopted to secure testing equipment, PPE, ventilation solutions and basic medicines. In Africa, scientists have developed a prototype for a new non-invasive respirator, as well as face shields and splash protection masks that can be affordably and quickly manufactured using a basic 3D printer – an invention that came to the fore during a pan-African hackathon held by the Central University of Tunisia.
Closer to home in the UAE, QuantLase Imaging Lab has developed novel equipment enabling for much faster mass screenings, with test results available in seconds. Rapid mass testing is an important milestone if we are to be able to identify asymptomatic carriers – so-called ‘silent spreaders’ who are unaware that they carry the virus. Such innovation will save lives.
The spirit of survival – necessity being the Mother of invention – is powerful. When harnessed, this very human attribute has enormous potential to deliver long-term benefits even after the pandemic. That’s why the Sharjah Research Technology and Innovation Park (SRTI Park) is organising the first edition of the MENA Innovation Technology Transfer Summit (MITT Summit), a marathon online conference spanning 14 hours of discussions on innovation, technology transfer and sustainability.
With over 50 international speakers and an estimated 5,000 online participants from 100 countries, the Summit will bring together global investors, government and private sector representatives, experts, entrepreneurs, academics, and other relevant stakeholders for an immersive experience of knowledge sharing, business showcasing and networking.
Future proofing the world
MITT is a great example of Sharjah’s vision to anticipate the future and become one of the world’s fastest-growing marketplaces for business and technology transformation. I know that when great minds come together – from across the public, private, academic, and scientific spheres, that extraordinary things can be achieved. At MITT, everything from the future of transportation to future-proofing natural resources and how to widen access to data and technology infrastructure, will be explored in detail.
We may be living through difficult times – but when we come together and work with a shared purpose of vision, nothing can hold back the tide of human progress.