Globally, in the last couple of weeks, we have seen collaboration apps and start-ups like PhoneSoap and Slightly Robot develop innovations catering to respond to the challenges from the ‘new-normal’, of our lives. From the emerging market context of India, particularly in the state of Kerala, I am noticing a relatively silent (for the global audience), but remarkable response of entrepreneurs and innovators to the pandemic.
Social distancing has been the buzz-word of COVID-19 response globally. But how do you #BreakTheChain of contact in public spaces like airports or bus stations? Kerala start-up, Asimov Robotics hasdeployed robots at entrances of office buildings and other public places to dispense hand sanitizers and for delivering public awareness messages on precautionary measures to be taken to control the spread of the virus. Automated hand sanitizer is perhaps not a novelty in itself, but the adaptation of it to meet the needs of the context is. A team of young innovators from an engineering college have been at this, by developing a low-cost (to be affordable) automated hand sanitizer machine that can hold larger volume of sanitizer liquid (to account for the larger population) and can be operated on battery (to account for power shortages and absence of charging points).
Public awareness is another area where important actions are needed to ensure important messages are passed on to people, and to curb fake news and panic among people. Using a platform developed by the start-up QKopy, Kerala state government has launched an app called GoK-Kerala Direct. This sends official government notifications, COVID-19 case updates and other relevant information not only on smartphones but also as SMS on feature phones (less than half of India’s population have smartphones). These messages are delivered both in English and in Malayalam (local vernacular language).
Hygiene of public spaces is another area of notable innovation interventions. Aqoza technologies, a chemical technology start-up, has developed a water-based sanitizer for disinfecting public spaces. This technology is expected to disinfect the area in 15 minutes in comparison to alcohol-based disinfectants, which take around four to five hours. To maintain hygiene of public toilets, Humble Shit, a start-up in the toilet monitoring space, is supporting the government in maintaining appropriate cleanliness of toilets.
What is enabling such quick innovation responses during COVID-19 in Kerala?
Contextual reasons (BIGPE model):
Call for action – We now need the same entrepreneurial mind-set to create the next wave of innovations for fighting Stage-3 of COVID-19 in Kerala. My recent conversations with start-ups like Phaethon technologies and with entrepreneurially oriented volunteers working in government war rooms offer encouraging signs in this front.
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Acknowledgement - Author would like to thank Sahil Sameer, Athil Gafoor, Aswin Mohan, Ranjit Nair and Jayakrishnan Nair for their inputs.