The pandemic provided an opportunity to reflect on how we do things. What kind of innovation will be needed in the post-pandemic world?
by Ron Fritz, CEO, Tech Soft 3D
While not fully out of the picture yet, the COVID-19 pandemic of the past year is starting to come under control in many regions and cities, providing an opportunity to pause and reflect on what it revealed about the world we live in and the way we do things.
What worked well over the past 15 months, and what didn’t? What weaknesses were exposed, and what opportunities were uncovered? Most important, what kind of innovation will be needed in the post-pandemic world, based on what we’ve learned from this experience?
Designing Safer Public Spaces
One thing that became crystal clear at the outset of the pandemic is that there needs to be a rethink in the way we design public spaces – not just offices, of course, but transportation hubs, sporting venues, auditoriums, schools, and any other places where large numbers of people congregate.
Designs for these public spaces shouldn’t just be evaluated in terms of cost, aesthetics, or other traditional factors. They should also be viewed through a health and sanitation lens, with a particular eye towards better airflow and carefully considered points of ingress and egress.
This shift in mindset echoes the emergence of green or eco-conscious building principles as an important lens for building designs in recent decades.
Architects and engineers weren’t purposely creating energy-guzzling buildings in the past; they simply didn’t have the tools to properly analyze interrelated building factors like how heating and cooling loads impact overall building temperature, or how the path of the sun might affect lighting needs.
Likewise, architects haven’t purposely been creating buildings that are virus vectors – they just haven’t had access to the right tools.
This current shortfall calls for innovation around products that allow the AEC space to easily get real-time feedback on the health aspects of their building designs as they’re designing them. The ability to readily simulate and visualize airflow and fresh air exchange rates – or to model the optimum flow of socially distanced people through hallways, entrances, and exits – will be crucial to ensuring that the built environment is resilient in the face of any future pandemics.
Just as we now take an eco-conscious lens for granted, we may one day take a public health lens for granted and wonder why it wasn’t applied to buildings sooner.
Leveraging Remote Presence in More Settings
XR – the umbrella term for augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality – has steadily been making inroads into industrial settings in recent years, but it remains far from mainstream. That might be about to change, however, in response to the events of the past year.
One of the most compelling aspects of XR is its ability to deliver “remote presence” to workers, enabling them to feel present in locations far from where they’re actually situated. There are a multitude of use cases across industries where this functionality can provide real value.
Picture an oil & gas employee who is able to strap on an XR headset and then guide highly technical maintenance and repair activities on an oil rig located in a particularly remote location. Alternately, imagine a remote inspection process for construction sites that allows municipal inspectors to accurately inspect the work being done and approve it, without having to actually travel out to the site.
Before the pandemic, remote presence might not have seemed that important – an interesting gimmick, perhaps.
Now, after a year where organizations were trying to find ways to avoid exposing their employees to coronavirus and getting them sick – not to mention a year of intermittent lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders that made it difficult to physically go anywhere – organizations are realizing that this capability is a lot more important than they initially thought.
More innovation around XR, including removing any bottlenecks around the creation of compelling XR content, will continue its upward trajectory and help create a legion of “connected workers” that can efficiently tackle specific tasks and workflows regardless of their location.
Making “Lights Out” Manufacturing a Reality
Just as the pandemic underlined the value of remote presence, it also helped boost interest in the Industry 4.0 concept of “lights out” manufacturing: factories that are so automated, they can operate with very few people – or even no people – present. After all, what could be more practical during an outbreak of a highly contagious global virus?
Getting to this state, however, is easier said than done and requires a wholesale embrace of digital transformation – including associated technologies like IoT, analytics, and digital twins – in order to make it a reality.
Effective digital transformation requires that companies consider these technologies or components in a holistic manner, rather than as separate projects. There needs to be a concerted effort to bring these individual technological initiatives together in a comprehensive and thoughtful way.
Of course, vendors have a key role to play here. Precisely because the digital transformation space is so fragmented – there is no “one” single product or technology for customers to buy – there needs to be extra effort made at eliminating any potential silos by utilizing open APIs and open standards.
The more that technology vendors can ensure interoperability and the free flow of data between products and services, the more innovation that can be unleashed, and the easier it will be to put the promise of Industry 4.0 and “lights out” manufacturing within reach.
The Silver Lining?
This might be the first global pandemic that many of us have experienced, but it certainly seems like it won’t be the last. If there is a silver lining to be found, it’s that the events of the past year have helped to shine a light on the areas where more innovation is needed, whether that’s technology for designing safer public spaces, new ways of delivering remote presence through XR, or approaches to digital transformation that can make automated factories a reality.
If we can heed some of the lessons from this pandemic and apply innovation where it’s needed most, we’ll be better equipped to mitigate any similar crises that unexpectedly ripple across the globe in the decades that lie ahead.
About the Author:
Ron Fritz is Co-founder and CEO of Tech Soft 3D – a global technology firm headquartered in Bend, OR. In his 23+ years since co-founding Tech Soft 3D, Ron has grown Tech Soft 3D from a small, self-funded and scrappy start-up into a trusted industry leader. Today Tech Soft 3D has 120+ dedicated experts located in offices around the globe and serves hundreds of developers of engineering software.
Driven by the company’s mission to Fuel Innovation, Ron has guided the company to expand its offerings beyond its original 3D visualization SDK into a robust suite of development tools which power hundreds of unique applications used by millions of engineers around the world.
Ron Fritz is a graduate of Cornell University where he earned his B.S degree in 1989.