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How the pandemic is spurring innovation within the technology sector

Posted 23 Mar 2021

The prevalence of the COVID-19 virus over the course of the last year and its subsequent repercussions outlines clearly the need for dynamic and reactionary mitigation strategies driven by novel technologies and general innovation.

Over the past year, the pandemic has forced businesses to evolve or face the consequences. The impacts have been industry agnostic and have led to 60% of the UK workforce working from home during the height of the pandemic. 62% of remote workers want employers to provide better technology that helps them stay connected with their colleagues. Therefore, for the interest of the UK economy and the safety of workers, it is very important to enable secure, clean and safe working environments with a reduced risk of contracting the virus and potential new strains. Digital Catapult has worked tirelessly to explore the ways in which new advanced digital technologies can support social distancing and the safe return to work. This blog will cover one such exciting project that Digital Catapult and it’s IoT team have had the privilege of working on.

EIT Digital and the EU’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic

EIT Digital (a leading European digital innovation organisation), under the umbrella of “DATA against COVID-19”, is the broader European innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem for the creation of safe and secure workplaces. Part of EIT’s Crisis Response Initiative contributed to the European Union’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including a call for innovation activities to support innovators developing solutions leveraging modern digital technology within contact tracing. Digital Catapult, alongside Reply IT and the University of Trento successfully submitted and won a bid.

Reply IT and the University of Trento have collaboratively created a novel solution, ‘ProxyAware’, a token-based product which can be used in a workplace to track movements of employees as well as monitor real-time distance between employees. The solution is GDPR compliant as it does not record personal data of employees, but instead records that token one and token two interacted, for how long and whether it was at a safe distance or not. The Reply IT solution enables striking novel and unexplored tradeoffs in exploiting Bluetooth and ultra-wideband (UWB), by taking the best of these two technologies: the high accuracy of UWB and the lower power consumption and higher user base of Bluetooth. Digital Catapult’s role in the project was two-fold: to create an end-to-end go-to-market (GTM) strategy for how the solution can be launched in the UK, and to technically evaluate the ProxyAware product vs. competitors on the market. The work that was carried out is outlined below in more detail.

What does it take to launch a product like this in the UK?

The first piece of work Digital Catapult undertook was around creating a GTM strategy for the ProxyAware solution to support Reply IT in exploring what it would take to launch the product in the UK. This was a truly cross-functional project undertaken by myself in Business Development (Rukmini Prasad), Policy (Alisha Mukherjee) and Innovation (Linda Ligios) across Digital Catapult. Initially, it was crucial to understand the current state of the market and pre-existing solutions that have been pivoted or redesigned to monitor social distancing in the wake of the pandemic. In conjunction with this, we undertook policy research to understand the laws and guidelines in place for offices, factories and affected workplaces. This was key in understanding the demand for the product, the kinds of organisations that would be interested in the solution and whether uptake of such a solution would indeed be mandated in the not so distant future. We interviewed interested industry stakeholders across aerospace and defence, the arts and culture sector and those in office space management twice throughout the project to get a wider understanding of the impact on industry of working from home and shutting down operations.

Using these insights, the Digital Catapult team created an proposition and offering for UK launch, which included competitive pricing and rental models, sales models and outreach as well as a marketing strategy which Reply IT could look to roll-out to attract UK engagement.

The second piece of work that was carried out was a technical benchmarking exercise to compare the ProxyAware solution directly with competitors in the market. This was done by Lead IoT Engineer, Ramona Marfievici and her team. The success of the benchmarked platforms used to enforce social distancing was evaluated according to five criteria: current consumption over time, time to detect proximity violation in seconds, reliability of proximity violation, configurability and environmental, and usage characteristics. The findings were recorded and shared directly within the GTM report.

Future of the technology

The ProxyAware solution uses a really unique and exciting blend of technology with our findings showing that technological innovation is crucial in safely returning to work and to a ‘new normal’.

For ways to engage with Digital Catapult on the development and exploration of innovative digital technologies get in touch here. Alternatively, learn discover our Future Networks Lab Challenge programme connecting corporate businesses with the knowledge and innovative ideas being developed by advanced digital technology startups. For 2021, Digital Catapult’s Future Networks Lab Challenge partnered with Siemens PLC and Arrow Electronics. Each challenge owner set unique challenges to overcome social distancing for startups to respond to, both themed around the opportunities that advanced digital technologies such as IoT and 5G provide. From working to academic environments.