Innovation That Matters

The top five COVID-19 innovations of 2021

Innovation Snapshot

Discover the innovations that will change the way we do things during and beyond the pandemic

At the start of the pandemic, experts were unsure what the effect on innovation would be. Turning to history for a prediction, we might have expected innovation to be badly hit. But the latest edition of the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Global Innovation Index—published in September 2021—reports that innovation has been remarkedly resilient during COVID-19. Publication of scientific articles worldwide grew by 7.6 per cent in 2020, and VC deals grew by 5.8 per cent – exceeding the 10-year average growth rate.

In short, innovation has had a good pandemic, rising to the challenges posed by COVID-19. So, what were some of the key innovations catalysed by coronavirus this past year?

Automated disinfection system gives businesses a break from cleaning

COVID-19 has made many people anxious about doing things they previously took for granted. From visiting a restaurant to exercising at the gym, we are all more aware of hygiene in public spaces. In response, businesses are considering how they can reassure customers so that they return – and there has been a big push to disinfect surfaces.

Wiping surfaces down by hand is a costly and onerous task, and it’s only natural that staff disinfecting areas manually will have ‘missed a bit’. To tackle this, Florida-based Fog-Ez has developed a fully automated system that enables businesses to disinfect surfaces on a pre-programmed schedule. This system uses a dry fog of chemicals—approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency—to inactivate pathogens. 

Antimicrobial textile coating destroys COVID-19 in five minutes

A new Australian joint venture is producing face masks and other textiles covered in a coating that deactivates coronavirus within 15 minutes.

The coating does not interfere with the weight, feel, and flexibility of the fabrics, and it can be used to treat fabrics that are typically untreatable due to various finishing processes. This includes PPE, air filters, and a variety of face masks. 

UV lamp designed to disinfect crowded spaces

Japanese light-maker Ushio Inc. has launched an ultraviolet lamp that kills coronavirus, without harm to human health. The lamp is designed to be used for the disinfection of spaces with high foot traffic, where the risk of contagion is high – such as buses, trains, elevators, and offices.

While UV lamps have been effectively used as a means of sterilisation in the medical and food-processing industries, until now, they have not been used in spaces where there are people. Ushio’s new lamp emits UV rays with a wavelength of 222 nanometres, as opposed to the conventional 254-nanometre wavelength. This makes the UV light lethal to viruses but safe for humans.

A pandemic-proof school design

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic has fallen heavily on children around the world, many of whom have missed out on more than a year of in-person education. As a result, educators have realised the importance of building greater flexibility into schools and education systems.

In Lima, Peru, one school has developed a campus that allows teaching to take place both indoors and outdoors. The design trades traditional indoor classrooms in a large building for adaptable, open teaching spaces that are naturally ventilated and can be expanded or shrunk to cater to different numbers of students. 

Floating work pods for a post-pandemic world

In a post-COVID world, it is likely that the working patterns of many people will remain permanently changed, with most people working remotely for at least part of the time. This will, in turn, require new types of workspace.

One designer, Agnieszka Białek, the owner of Krakow-based studio Monolight, is addressing this challenge with a co-working space that sees remote workers floating on the water in the heart of the city. Each structure is a private workspace, and the structures could be rearranged as needed to suit different locations along the river. Remote workers tired of being at home could book a structure and spend time working in a calming natural environment.

Words: Matthew Hempstead

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