November 23, 2020
Throughout history, technologists have delivered innovations that have impacted our lives on a daily basis. Imagine, for example, if we did not have the Internet? How much harder would the lockdown period have been for so many of us?
Having technology at our fingertips has allowed us to continue working and studying, even in the midst of shelter-in-place orders and travel restrictions. Most importantly, they have helped us to stay together remotely, even while physically distanced, allowing us to continue providing emotional support and strength to our family, friends and loved ones.
So in our time of difficulty and challenges, let us reflect on the technologies that are serving to make our lives easier, and look forward into their developments in the future.
1. Electricity and Grid Management
Electricity has become a basic need in our lives, and its development has continued for decades. Most of us cannot imagine a life without electric power.
In the peak times of the COVID-19 infections, development in microgrids and smart grid management technologies supplied hope. They also made a positive impact on climate change through the rechanneling of power generation into the grid.
For example, when temporary medical facilities needed to be urgently established to manage the surge of incoming COVID-19 patients, electricity could be supplied to these pop-up hospitals through independent microgrids without delay or complications involved with connecting to the traditional power grid.
Strict lockdowns that were imposed during COVID-19 brought about drastic decreases in electricity usage in certain parts of the world. China saw a drop of 13 percent in power usage while EU countries saw an average drop of about 10 percent, reports the International Energy Agency. With developments in the smart grid management technologies, these decreases on the grid load enabled a shift towards using primarily renewable power generation systems, thus reducing the need for fossil fuel power generation during the lockdown months.
2. The Internet and its Enabling Technologies
Most of us probably relied on our stable internet connection during the lockdown. However, it bears remembering that it was less than 40 years ago when we had computers that did not possess the same amount of interconnectivity. And certainly most households did not even have a computer!
If we had not had advancements being done by IEEE members in computer technology, semiconductors, communication networks and 5G, it would have been far more challenging to remain connected in the year 2020.
These communication technologies together with semiconductors and electronics manufacturing have enabled basic devices such as microphones, camera and audio speakers to be widely available on all laptops, smartphones and tablets at affordable prices.
The combination of the Internet, semiconductor technologies, mobile computing and electronic data interchange have enabled e-commerce to become increasingly available over the past five years. Thus, we have managed to keep our lives functioning even in the strictest lockdown zones with the convenience of online shopping, delivery and online banking. Post-COVID-19 will likely see the e-market not only remain, but continue its growth as it has slowly become the “new normal” for transactions of goods and services.
These developments do not stop here. We are now trending towards the removal of intermediate interfacing between humans and the Internet. In the past decade, advances in microelectronics, communication protocols and systems, computer architecture and embedded processing have moved us into a data-driven world. With the transformation of objects into intelligent, information-rich processing devices, the Internet-of-Things (IoT) has started its journey towards revolutionizing the way we communicate, socialize, work and study.
As a simple example, imagine purchasing something online. This object is able to tell you where it is at any one point. It can decide on the most efficient, or cost-effective, method to get to you based on your preference, and get itself to your doorstep by interacting with transportation systems and delivery services without going through a computer interface. Simply speaking, these are objects, talking to other objects, and to you directly. This is just one small possibility out of many examples of how the IoT will come into our daily lives.
As we end the tumultuous year 2020, it is important to remember that in the midst of our uncertain situation, we have one certainty to cling onto — technology. Our hard work in developing technology to support humanity and our needs has not been for naught; and their continuous evolution will continue to enable us to face these global challenges resolutely.
About our Author
Melanie Ooi is an IEEE member.