There is a mad scramble underway for a vaccine to serve as our ticket back to life as we knew it. Yet the coronavirus has forced upon us some changes that are here to stay for good. When the pandemic struck and the lockdown was imposed, our consumption patterns changed. Essentials became non-essentials, while things considered non-essentials turned to indispensables. There was also a rethink on how our consumption patterns had impacted our relationship with our environment. The one trait that made human existence on earth possible over billions of years is the resilience and ingenuity humans show when it comes to adjusting to new realities.
Driving the change in manufacturing in a post-pandemic world are startups. Over the last six-seven months not only have new startups come up offering solutions to the realities of a post-pandemic world but even existing ones have changed their working models to meet reprioritised consumer demands.
With people now more conscious of not just personal hygiene, but also the hygiene levels of their immediate environment like home and office spaces, a whole new range of products are being offered for the same. To reduce human contact, special attention is being paid to the automation of such products. There are startups building robots that can sanitize small spaces like office cubicles and rooms. These machines are equipped to make decisions like how frequently sanitization is needed or how long the process should last to ensure germ-free spaces. Even water coolers and coffee machines are being automated to reduce fomites transmission of infections. They can also tell the consumer when the machines need a refill.
Startups are also enabling IoT in office spaces so that companies can do away with biometric attendance and switch to facial recognition. Innovations are not, however, limited to offices. They are happening in all areas given that the pandemic also impacted all aspects of life. One of the greatest realizations, however, was the need for increased thrust on medical care. A global shortage of ventilators happened when the pandemic struck. India’s dependence on imports to meet ventilator demand was also not missed. The pandemic proved the vulnerability of global chains. Border skirmishes with China, India’s biggest exporter, and demand for ‘boycott China’ also fueled the change. The Atmanirbhar Bharat push from the government has thus been received well by all sections.
Indian startups rose to the challenge and began manufacturing ventilators that could be used not just in hospitals but at homes too. Many startups are manufacturing medical storage devices. They can act as vending machines for drugs and other pharmaceutical products reducing human contact.
Remote consultancy has acquired a whole new dimension during the pandemic. Startups are taking it to the next level by coming up with devices that allow doctors and physicians to diagnose a patient’s ailments remotely. There are new thermal cameras, stethoscopes, and X-ray devices that don’t need a doctor-patient contact to be physical. Companies are building air taxis to help make medical equipment and assistance available even in remote areas and at the shortest possible notice. They are also being equipped to assist in organ transportation.
The idea that startups are pursuing is to maximize the use of products they create by allowing customization of devices. There are electric cycles being manufactured that allow people to cycle over distances or use them on static mode for exercising, while also being used for running deliveries. This innovation follows people’s emphasis on keeping fit in a post-pandemic world and the rising trend of people getting things delivered at the doorstep even in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities of India.
On the agricultural front too, the impact of the pandemic was felt. While India saw a bumper food grain production, the supply of vegetables and other perishables was hit initially. Indian startups are innovating in the agricultural field to not just fix the supply chains but also help farmers increase crop yield. There are devices in the market that can help our farmers ascertain the minutest climatic and weather details that can have a bearing on crop yield. These systems use AI and IoT so the technology handed over to the farmers by way of the devices is holistic in the form of a package.
In fact, startups are careful about giving people complete solutions and not products that need other products to run and deliver results. Wherever IoT and AI are being used, care is being taken to ensure areas for which products are being created have necessary WiFi connections. In agriculture, devices that provide IoT systems are being provided with WiFi connections that can be used even in areas where WiFi networks aren’t robust or are erratic. Startups in India are thus keeping a step ahead of demand in terms of innovations and solutions. Given that they understand Indian problems better, they offer better solutions for Indian problems. This is just the kind of push Atmanirbhar Bharat needs.
Sanjeev Chopra is the CEO of Electropreneur Park Incubation Center. Views expressed are the author’s own.