July 8, 2020

Product Innovations in the Face of a Pandemic

By Nicole Hopper

While terrible, times of crisis over the years have also spurred some of history’s most notable inventions still in use today. From the ambulance created during the Middle Ages to help medics get to and transport patients quickly, to duct tape during WWII helping soldiers repair equipment in a pinch, and even Isaac Newton’s work in early calculus and gravity while 'working from home' during the Great Plague of London, national and global epidemics have been the foundation for innovative and creative solutions to problems of the time. With recent advancements in sanitization methods, mask alternatives, and a whole slew of devices to keep you from touching different surfaces, the current coronavirus pandemic has proven to be no different.

The Soffio, photo courtesy: businessinsider.com

Covering Your Cough

One of the most notable inventions to come out of the current pandemic has been a variety of face coverings. Perhaps spurred by the initial lack of disposable and N95 masks recommended during the early stages, we’ve seen a spike in homemade suppliers and other washable and reusable face covering solutions, like Breathe99’s B2 mask. A recent study even showed the homemade, stitched-quilting fabric masks to be more effective than bandanas or cone-style masks (like the N95) with cough droplets traveling just 2.5 inches through the quilted coverings, compared to 3 feet, and 8 inches, respectively.

Other recent up-and-comers in this space to keep an eye on are Detroit-based Redcliffe Medical and the Soffio out of Italy. Redcliffe Medical's Leaf is a N99+ HEPA-carbon filtration transparent mask that blocks nearly 100% of pathogens and pollutants. The UV-powered smart mask is anti-fogging and has a small UV-C light built in that enables it to self-purify. The Soffio, meaning "blow" in Italian, comes in a small package that inflates to a 180-degree barrier. The designers came up with the creation to assist their clients, mostly bars and restaurants, asking for creative and practical solutions to assist businesses in reopening.

With the option to make homemade face coverings from recycled fabric, the Soffio constructed from recycled plastic, and the many reusable options being introduced, these alternative options created in the wake of the pandemic are poised to have a lasting environmental impact and effect on future filtration and mask-making techniques.

DesignLibero's bubble shield, photo courtesy: DesignLibero

Keeping Your Distance

If the masks aren’t protection enough, DesignLibero's bubble shield will help you feel protected. The social distancing concept uses solar-powered energy to inflate the micro structure and circulate the air through a pump compressor and fan coils, purifying the air through interchangeable filters. The use of solar power to run the filtration system is another example of an environmentally-friendly technology with lasting impacts beyond the pandemic, and designers also offer their concept as air pollution protection.

Another space-protecting solution boasting benefits beyond the pandemic is the Safe Queue app. Developed to solve for one of the biggest societal changes to come out of COVID-19, social distancing requirements, the app takes the pain out of spacing out lines while waiting for a service. You can use the app at home to find the establishment you wish to visit, and then join a virtual queue when you get within 1,000 feet of the establishment, allowing you to wait in line from a safe distance, even remaining in your car if you’d like. When you’re up, just approach the door, show your QR code issued by the app, and enter without ever having to physically wait in queue.

Staying Connected

Another challenge to come with social distancing measures is the ability to connect with friends and family. Online video forums like Google Hangouts, Zoom, and Houseparty have seen a surge in usage, and devices like Facebook’s portal help bring loved ones into your home, if only digitally. Stepping up to the sudden spike in demand is Google’s Nest Hub Max.

While the Hub Max has always been capable of making video calls, it's been limited to one-on-one video sessions. Google recently announced the Hub Max has now teamed up with both Duo and Meet, allowing chat groups of up to 100, outperforming the Portal’s 8-person limit.

Whether it is new, environmentally-friendly ways to produce products, enhanced devices to keep us connected, or brand new technologies like NASA’s PULSE pendant that vibrates when your hand approaches your face, the coronavirus pandemic has inspired some creative and innovative ideas. It will be interesting to watch these innovations develop and see which might develop into the ambulance or duct tape of the future.

Eye on Innovation is a monthly look at new technology, products, and trends.