When it comes to AI and robotics, there are the optimists, and then there are the skeptics. Working in the AI and autonomous transportation vertical, I have struggled to convince people to adopt unmanned solutions. “This is so far away,” they often say. “What is the use case of autonomous drones anyways?” they would ask.

As the outbreak of novel coronavirus becomes an international crisis, the Chinese technology industry is getting creative in finding solutions to avoid human-to-human interactions. Suddenly, these previously “useless” and “too far ahead” technology have found their use cases.

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Unmanned aerial vehicles

Last week, a video of a policewoman using a drone-carried speaker to warn pedestrians to wear masks went viral on Chinese social media. The combination of policewoman + dialect + unmanned aerial vehicle provided comic relief for the nation during the depressing outbreak days.

Not only are drones being used to patrol and promote healthy behavior, but consumer drone company DJI also allocated RMB 10 million (about $1.4 million) to combat coronavirus by donating medical equipment, funding drone-enabled disinfection, and establishing drone-enabled disinfection protocols. DJI competitor and China’s leading agriculture drone tech company, XAG, allocated RMB 50 million to allow drones to be used for disinfection in remote areas.

Agriculture drones have been widely used to spray fertilizers and pesticides since 2013. These well-established drones seamlessly transferred to medical missions to support China’s effort to contain the outbreak.

VIDEO: How tech is changing agriculture in China

Unmanned ground vehicles

Both the Guangdong People’s Hospital and the Hangzhou First People’s Hospital have deployed unmanned ground vehicles to deliver medication and food to quarantined patients. These minimize interaction between nurses and patients.

Each trip, an unmanned robot can deliver four meals with the ability to use elevators, avoid obstacles and find their way back to chargers.

Though these unmanned delivery robots are still in the pilot stage, it has revealed a pain point in the medical field that can be solved by unmanned systems.

Remote work

I am a digital nomad and an advocate of remote working.

A month ago, Zoom stock was falling despite good quarterly results. But the sudden spike in remote work caused by the outbreak has revived Zoom’s stock price. Since corporates in Beijing went back to work remotely on Feb. 3, after the prolonged Chinese New Year, Zoom’s stock price has been climbing. On the day of Feb. 3, Zoom had a closing price of $87.66, with the highest daily percent change of +15% over eight months.

At a hospital built over the past two weeks in Wuhan, Huawei, in cooperation with China Telecommunications Corporation, provided a remote video diagnostic center supported by optical cables. In the future, the company says, the remote diagnostic center will be supported by 5G.

The special circumstances posed by the outbreak have pushed people to use technology in ways that we could not have imagined were necessary a few weeks ago. Technology continues to play a part in the fight against the disease. Not all these technologies will pan out, but they’re getting a real-world test and some will probably emerge with proven applications

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