Driving to work at his factory to the west of London last week, designer Steve Brooks had coronavirus on his mind. What could he make that would let him open a door without touching the handle?
“Everyone has to use their little finger or find the bit of the door that nobody’s touched,” said the designer and owner at DDB Ltd, a company which makes office furniture. So he produced a hook to do the job.
The so-called hygienehook is small enough to fit in a pocket and made from a non-porous material, which makes it easy to clean. It is one of hundreds of gadgets dreamt up in recent days and weeks to help prevent people from spreading the coronavirus.
From furniture makers to AI software developers, companies around the world are adapting existing products or inventing new ones to help fight the pandemic or just make life easier for those working from home, in hospitals or stuck in quarantine.
The flurry of innovation comes as companies from Ford and Airbus to luxury goods giant LVMH retool plants to make critical equipment like hand sanitizers, ventilators and masks.
In years gone by it was large companies like these, with the financial clout and factories, who typically had to be relied upon to move rapidly from designing a prototype to manufacturing the product.
A crucial difference now, though, is that 3D printing and high-tech software mean devices can be produced faster than ever by companies big and small.
“There is definitely a ton of people with 3D resources very willing to help,” said MacKenzie Brown, founder of California-based product design company CAD Crowd.
Two weeks ago, his company launched a month-long contest for practical devices for navigating the new coronavirus world.
About 65 entries have poured in, including a wrist-mounted disinfectant sprayer, half gloves for knuckle-pushing of buttons and a device that lets you open car doors without touching the handle, aimed at cab users.
As the pandemic makes people far more aware of hygiene, some new products may have a shelf life beyond the current crisis.
‘WE HAD THE ALGORITHM’
Startups are retooling their technology.
In Seattle, brothers Joseph and Matthew Toles and their friend Justin Ith, who own a young company called Slightly Robot, had developed a wristband after college aimed at reducing compulsive skin-picking, nail-biting and hair-pulling.
When their home city reported its first fatalities from the virus last month, they adapted the design to create a new smartband, the Immutouch, which buzzes when the wearer’s hand goes near their face.
“We had the algorithm, we had the software and the hardware. We’ve repurposed it for face-touching,” Matthew Toles said in an interview. “We made 350 devices and a Web site in one week and now it’s how fast can we ramp up.”
Romanian robotic software company UiPath has meanwhile found a way for nurses in the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital in the Irish capital Dublin to ditch time-consuming data entry and automate filing of virus test results. It hopes to replicate it in other hospitals.
Scylla, a US-based AI company that makes gun detection systems for schools and casinos, turned its sights on the virus when China, the original epicenter of the outbreak, reported its first cases three months ago.
It has re-deployed its AI analytics software to measure the temperature of a person’s forehead, sending out an alert if it detects a fever. Taking images from a thermal camera, the software can be used in public buildings like hospitals and airports, and corporate offices, chief technology officer Ara Ghazaryan said.
The government of a South American nation has placed an order for 5,000 licenses of Scylla’s system for its public buildings and transport system, Ghazaryan said. He declined to name the country.
WORLD WAR TWO INNOVATION
Global upheaval often spawns new products and innovation.
The current burst of creativity may eventually compare to that seen during World War II when companies, governments and scientists embarked on projects that had lasting consequences.
Technology used to help guide rockets eventually led to the first satellites and putting men on the moon.
“There’s no question that inventors will be coming up with hundreds, if not thousands, of new ideas,” said Kane Kramer, inventor and co-founder of the British Inventor’s Society. He first conceived the idea of downloading music and data in the late 1970s.
“Everyone’s downed tools and are only picking them up to fight the virus. It’s a global war.”
Many companies are donating their new wares or selling them at cost price. The CAD Crowd contest designs are free for download and use, for example. For some, though, the extra business could provide a financial cushion as other sources of income evaporate during the pandemic.
DDB designer Brooks near London has worked quickly.
Less than a week after his first design, four different models of the hook went on sale this week, selling at just under US$18.60 each. He is donating one hook for every one he sells.
Now Brooks is turning his creative eye to another gadget along similar lines.
“We’ve already had a request from the National Health Service in Wales about designing something for pushing a door.”
Last week, the huge news broke that the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) would not host an open primary for its presidential nominee, but instead pick a candidate through a committee process. KMT Chairman Eric Chu (朱立倫) sent forth a few polite meaningless words about party unity in making the announcement. There’s great commentary on this momentous move, so I will say only that for those of you who think the KMT will “never be that dumb,” I have three words for you: Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱), the unelectable candidate the party chose for the 2016 presidential race. Criticism of the Democratic Progressive
Anyone who has been stung by a black-tailed tiger hornet (Vespa basalis) would understand my immediate trepidation at stumbling on them while hiking Kaohsiung’s Weiliao Mountain (尾寮山). I’ve been stung a few times by these flying hypodermic needles, and the shock of pain lives up to their “murder hornet” moniker. Should I try to navigate around them, or get the hell off the mountain? NO 47 OF THE SMALL 100 PEAKS Weiliao Mountain (1,427m) is No 49 of the xiaobaibue (小百岳, “small 100 peaks”). I’d come here late last year to achieve a two-pronged ascent of the peak, breaching the trail on
The opportunity that brought Ming Turner (陳明惠) back to Taiwan a decade ago had an environmental theme, but since then, she admits, paying attention to environmental issues “hasn’t really been my thing.” Turner, who attended graduate school in the UK, initially returned to curate an event in Kaohsiung’s Cijin District (旗津), not far from where she grew up. Some years after she and her husband decided they’d stay in Taiwan, they moved to Tainan’s Annan District (安南) with their two young children. Turner is now an associate professor in the Institute of Creative Industries Design and director of visual and performance
Among the many atrocities committed by the Japanese during World War II, the Sook Ching massacre was notable for the involvement of Taiwanese. Having captured Singapore in February 1942, the Japanese army and its accomplices killed at least 25,000 Chinese. Prominent among the invaders’ henchmen was Wee Twee Kim (Huang Duijin, 黃堆金), an interpreter-turned-enforcer who — as this riveting new book reveals — was one of many Taiwanese participants in abuses against overseas Chinese, Allied POWS and local civilians. As an employee of the Japanese Southern Asian Company, Wee had been posted to Singapore in 1917. He started out managing Chinese