28/12/2020 Stoyan Toshev Gallery

Welcome to the home of future!

How the global pandemic changed homeliness and accelerated progress with technologies

The recent unexpected vacation, which made us spend this springtime anchored at home, will certainly remain in history. Unless it is repeated soon, the period of isolation which the whole world imposed on itself has had very interesting implications. While these are yet to be assessed, it is already certain that technology has a crucial role in keeping our society up and running at times of ‘locked gates’ and strict quarantine. Plus, technology will have a far reaching impact long after the COVID-19 crisis remains only an episode of history, because the comfort of our homes hinges on technology.

In fact, one of the most unexpected effects of the Coronacrisis has been the exceptional surge of certain technologies in combination with the surprising discovery that our home may well turn out to be the most convenient office, among other things. Here are several ways in which the pandemic changes our homes and catalyzes progress in certain high-tech areas:

Home office and remote learning have already become part of our daily life

In the matter of a few months, a huge number of companies let their staff work from home most of the time. Transition to working from home occurred smoothly owing to fast-speed modern connectivity and technologies: virtual private networks (VPN), advanced voice-over-internet protocols (VoIP), virtual conferences in hit-making platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Skype, file sharing through cloud-based technology, software for collaborative work (Trello, ClickUp). Videoconferencing software applications have become even more sophisticated as they can easily recognize human faces against a virtual background which protects the privacy of your home and ambience. Home office and remote learning help prevent the spread of viruses, not to mention the time saved by not doing the daily travel to and from work/school.

By mid-April, 191 countries had already imposed temporary lockdown of schools and universities, which affected 1.57 billion schoolchildren and students! Educational institutions responded by offering online lessons to ensure that quarantine measures do not disrupt education. The technologies involved in remote learning include, among other things, cutting-edge advancements such as virtual/augmented reality, 3D printing and even robotic teachers with Artificial Intelligence (AI) features. While not all of these are available in Bulgaria, learning from home was easily adopted in our country, too.

Shopping from a kitchen stool actually became easier

Maybe not everyone remembers how the outbreak of the SARS pandemic in 2002 led to a surge of online business platforms in China and across the world. Those times saw the birth of huge empires such as Alibaba. The employees of the startup company (at that time) found themselves locked at their homes, which actually motivated and boosted the efficiency of the creative Asians, triggering the fastest growth of the company. They took advantage of the situation in order to develop a perfectly functioning ‘offline engine’ even before the era of social media and videoconferencing, and ended up as a giant multibillion company.

Similarly, in the matter of weeks the 2020 crisis transformed online shopping from an enjoyable option to a strategically irreplaceable and most preferred way of purchasing goods across the globe. E-commerce websites were quick to improve their services and organisation, found ways for contactless delivery of their goods, and minimised the risk of virus transmission as products can be collected from an agreed location rather than delivered directly in your hands. Chinese e-commerce giants even accelerated the development of deliveries by robots and drones — something on which the top site Amazon has been working for years. However, suppliers should establish clear rules for protecting the sanitary condition of their supplies before robotized deliveries can become ubiquitous.

New buildings are popping faster owing to 3D and modularity

3D printing technology offers incredible manufacturing flexibility: a single printer can produce a variety of products only on the basis of 3D model files and available materials. Thus, printing technology becomes increasing widespread in the building industry, and indeed many conceptual projects for Mars or Moon bases rely on 3D printing (construction). This new technology is now used for making entire buildings such as the city hall in Dubai which was built only a few months ago! Engineers assert that the printing of entire buildings will save both significant financial resources and time.

Modular construction is also gaining momentum. There is some similarity with the buildings made of prefabricated concrete panels or cubes. The difference is that entire sections of a building are fabricated and fitted out at a factory (e.g. a fully equipped bathroom) before they are added am bloc to the final building. This approach helps shorten construction times as well as reduce harmful emissions and wastage of materials.

Seeing a doctor … from an armchair at your home!

Even in Bulgaria, general practitioners have become used to scheduling visits in advance so that to avoid clustering of patients at the doors of their medical offices. Social isolation has made remote diagnostics and telemedicine a reality. Medical practitioners are using every available modern and efficient way in order to mitigate the spread of coronavirus by providing timely and adequate medical care — remotely! IoT wearables (e.g. Huawei smart watches) have become part of the process. The ultimate Huawei product, GT2 Pro, is even able to monitor crucially important health status indicators, such as stress levels, heartbeat and even oxygen content in the blood! Dedicated software products such as chatbots are able to make initial diagnoses on the basis of symptoms shared by patients, thus reducing unnecessary face-to-face visits at the doctor’s office and the associated risks.

Digital and proximity payments are already preferred transaction modes

In addition to enabling you shop safely in your sleepers from the comfort of your home, digital technology helps combat infections at another level — you do not have to touch anything even when you are outside or in a brick-and-mortar store! Since money (paper notes or metal coins) can easily carry live viruses for longer periods, many banks throughout the world apply a variety of measures to ensure that their customers will not get infected. Yes, the best thing to do is avoid physical contact with money and all banks have respected this precaution. Thus, contactless digital payments by wireless cards, telephones of even watches with RFID (NFC) chips and e-wallets have become a preferred if not mandatory mode of payment. For many years, digital commerce has enabled us shop easily and quickly online, and pay bills for goods, services and utilities. But in the new normal this mode of payment is a priority.

The online teleportation of entertainment

Going to concerts, cinema theatres or large events has become a taboo due to the tightened social isolation measures. But in their pursuit for relaxation and partying people automatically embarked on the advantages offered by the Web. Events such as live online concerts, rave parties in the cloud, streaming of joint concerts of musicians from different parts of the world have become a modern daily routine. Innovative companies such as Oda went to even greater lengths by creating Bluetooth loudspeakers which, for a seasonal subscriptions, offer live online streaming exclusively for you from 20 celebrity performers or bands. As if at live concert, but at your home. Not to mention the movie streaming platforms, which have seen an unprecedented boom. Even museums and international cultural sites offer online tours for you, comfortably stretched in your bedroom. The gaming world is bursting with energy as the number of gamers and seekers of all sort of entertainment is skyrocketing. The expected launch of new-generation consoles from Playstation 5 and Xbox Series in the next days will add more fuel to this super reactive mixture.

Robots, drones and 5G connectivity

COVID-19 has made people realise how much they rely on human interaction to make things work. Labour-intensive sectors such as commerce, food, manufacturing and logistics are among the most heavily affected ones. The crisis however catalysed the faster and wider introduction of robots and intense robotics-related R&D. Increasingly frequent are media reports for the employment of robots (e.g. from Boston Dynamics) for disinfection of spaces, supply of food to quarantined people and even as some sort of sanitation workers. Drones are being taught to walk dogs or as noted already, are actively tested to make the dream of Jeff Bezos and Amazon come true — create the perfect flying courier.

However, all these technological developments inevitably rely on steady, high-speed and ubiquitous Internet connectivity. In this regard, an improved technology known as 5G is increasingly demonstrating its relevance for the future. It provides ultrafast wireless connectivity to support the rising trend of technological advancements, although it is still struggling with prejudices in Europe and beyond. The massive uptake of 5G technologies in the near term will reduce the price of 5G-enabled devices, the expenses for mobile data plans, and will connect to the Internet more and more people and devices across the globe.

What is the best aspect of this situation? 5G can benefit modern homes, increasingly pervaded by smart devices as they are. Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa will be increasingly helpful butlers which will control for us lighting, heating, cleanness and even food stocks in the refrigerator. Electronic devices at your home will ‘sense’ that you are coming back soon and will make the scene for this happy everyday event by setting the right temperature in the rooms, warming up the food remotely or even preparing the news you want to read while having your dinner. Withal, all those examples are already … a reality rather than fantasy. Welcome to the home of future!