COVID disrupted world order, catalysed tech revolution

Syed Khaled Shahbaaz

While COVID-19 disrupted almost every aspect of industry and businesses, it catalysed the evolution and adaptation of modern technology, especially in the age of Industry 4.0. Industry experts and researchers from around the world, who gave plenary talks and presented a glimpse of future technology in the post Corona Virus era opined that “the new age is being revolutionized by emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, 5G communication, self-driving cars and medicine delivery robots. While COVID-19 pandemic has unfortunately disrupted almost everything, it catalysed the process of digitization and evolution of technology.
The 3-day international conference, which concluded on Saturday, was organized by IEEE Hyderabad where experts cascaded their vision for the future while presenting a glimpse of it through research papers and Special Industry Track programmes. The conference, held virtually due to the COVID situation, saw more than 1200 participants, over a hundred curated research papers and industry experts from Japan, Australia, Thailand, Taiwan and India after Japanese Roboticist Prof Toshio Fukuda inaugurated the conference on Thursday.

Jaw-dropping technology and research from Solar-powered smart home capable of power managing itself to using 5G communication technology in devices like autonomous cars and robots, from using biometric systems for vehicle monitoring for passenger safety to using automated systems and thermal imaging to detect breast tumours, to concepts that enhance learning in the differently abled, highlighted ways to make best use of technological advancements in the age of Industry 4.0. In the words of Asia Pacific Director-Elect of IEEE (2021-2022) Mr. Deepak Mathur said, “technology will be a great enabler in this age, especially to combat the post-pandemic disruptions.”

Speaking to this journalist conference convener Mousami Chaurasia said, “1200+ attendees registered from several parts of Country and nearby nations. General Chairs Amit Kumar and Atul Negi seemed satisfied that IEEE HYDCON could, “change the mindset of young professionals who would otherwise refrain from technical conferences of such calibre and networking potential.” Perhaps, this is an indicator of times to come where virtual conferences may completely take over the physical ones. That my friends, is the future, but not so imminent.

If technology has changed, so will the industry. And there is no future without technology that is relevant to the advancements of society and modernization. Imagine 5G technology used in autonomous cars – cars that can self-drive, obey traffic lights, stop for pedestrains, brake to avoid collision, dodge obstacles – all by themselves communicating at one-tenth of a millisecond or a little more. Imagine police being able to track hit-and-run cars in real time without practically negligible delay, imagine autonomous vehicles that can undertake unmanned under-water operations and save humans the risk of exposure to contaminated waters, oil spills, etc. Such technology is not distant anymore. It is well within the grasp of humanity. It is advancing at the speed of light.

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Thanks to countless engineers working in different verticals to explore the best way to use available tech. Some research papers at the conference focused on identifying something as serious as a breast cancer in women even before symptoms begin to appear, or using a safe process of thermal imaging to scan and detect tumors. Tools that can communicate with other devices like wearables, smart homes, smart cities, software systems that can detect fraud using Artificial Intelligence, disinfection systems for public transport that do not require a sanitizer, or even someone to do the sanitization for that matter – just a UV light and an automatic robot can do it without zero human intervention. Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence have opened possibilities that only seemed cinematic – the likes of which were showcased in sci-fi Hollywood movies.

Their importance, use and applications cannot be undermined. Such technologies, ideas and brainstorming sessions were the core of IEEE’s HydCon 2020 Conference. Australian Professor Lance Fung of Murdoch University while delivering a plenary talk on Digital Transformation and Emerging Technologies for post Covid-19 era said, “while COVID-19 crisis has brought unprecedented disruption to every aspect of businesses, industries, education, health care and day-to-day operations, the Forth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is being transformed by emerging technologies such as AI, IoT, 5G, Robotics etc.” Another plenary talk was presented by Stefan Mozar of Australia on Silent Energy Revolution in the connected world.
Conference TPC Chairs Jan Haase from Germany and N Venkatesh echoed that experts focused on defining technologies in the age of digital transformation triggered by the pandemic.

Clearly, as one thing evolves another must pave way for its acceptance. The new age tools and emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, 5G communications, Robotics, and connected systems are inevitable and undeniable ingredients of the technologically evolving world and things that will become a part of our life –  whether commuting in autonomous public transport or deep diving in the sea for exploration or something as simple as just recording the digital classes by automatically pointing and zooming the camera to the speaker eliminating the need for a second person to handle the job. While industry 4.0’s main focus is on automating the manufacturing process across different verticals, papers on using such technology for improving healthcare, mobile health systems, Cyber security, Consumer Energy, Neural Networks, and autonomous cars, robots, medical devices, consumer electronics among other things were also presented.

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Several past Chairs of IEEE participated in the valedictory programme held on Saturday. IEEE HYDCON 2020 convenor Mousmi Ajay Chaurasia congratulated all authors and volunteers for the smooth conduct of the conference. Chair of IEEE Industry Relations Asia Pacific Chris Gwo Giun Lee, Director Akinori Nishihara, Secretary Takako Hashimoto and IEEE India Council Chair S N Singh also shared their industry insights during the 3-day conference. Mementos were distributed virtually. While that alone took away half the fun of the conference, foreign delegates didn’t hesitate to express how much they’re already missing the physical conference. Many had hoped to taste the scrumptious Hyderabadi Biryani and see the historic Charminar.

With Indian origin Deepak Mathur elected as the next Director of the Asia Pacific region, IEEE Hyderabad expressed confidence that the section will set new milestones and scale exemplary advancements under his leadership. Tech giants have multiplied their revenues as we increased our dependencies on online shopping, online learning, online gaming, online site seeing, virtual reality tourism, virtual telepresence, virtual conferences and what not. What the future beholds will be an interesting development to keep track of. Meanwhile, let the like-minded engineers collaborate in their quest for making this world a better, more connected, artificially intelligent and secure place to inhabit us earthlings. Until one day when the machines completely take over…

Syed Khaled Shahbaaz is a software engineer as well as a media professional based in Hyderabad. He may be reached at syedkhaledshahbaaz@gmail.com or +91-9652828710

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