By Martin Waidhuba        

waidhuba@ict-embedded.com

+256781399254

Keywords: Covid-19, Technology, Open-Design, Production, Product, Innovation, Methodology, Product Design, Service Design, Philosophy, Engineering, Technology Adaptation, Product Design, Ventilators.

Abstract

Science and Engineering have always been at the forefront of innovation, research, and design. However, their absorption into society has been low or lacked the appreciation it deserved until the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world. This set forth new end-user requirements and demand for solutions that necessitated direct attention to the works of science, engineering, and technology, as well as highlighting (more than ever) their corresponding contribution to society. Additionally, considering the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic, End-user requirements proved to be the key driver to product and service designs, and not projected profit margins as had been the norm previously. In this paper, the philosophy underlying the design and research methodologies employed to enable the fast and timely production of Covid-19 prevention and protection equipment (sanitizers, gloves, masks, ventilators) and other innovations, is traced. It is realised that designers adopted Open-Design principles that were characterised by information-sharing regarding prototypes, and fostering reproducibility of results, easy customization across different end-user communities, and early stakeholder engagement from cross-disciplinary backgrounds (doctors, engineers, social scientists, regulators, and technologists).

Introduction

Following the Covid-19 pandemic, the day-to-day focus of business across several industries was targeted towards innovation of products and service applications to curb the spread and impact of the virus. These included design of prevention and protection equipment (PPEs), Software applications, data processing and analytics techniques, as well as new operational work methods. More so, the use of digital technology as a ready enabler to the faster realisation of production results through simulation, and design process automation as seen at (Gomes et al., 2020; MathWorks, 2020). Furthermore (Zaki, 2019) presented a discussion concerning the trajectory of digital transformation for next generation services’ design that fits the corresponding product deployments, whereas (Relova & Goldschmidt, 2020) explores the impact of digital healthcare technologies on a pandemic and the pivot observed in health service delivery.

The use of digital technology in Africa saw a tremendous drive in adoption although not without challenges as systematically reviewed by (Maharana et al., 2021), giving hope to sustain the trend attained, for future times that could present similar challenges. It is also important to mention that Covid-19 pandemic found technology advancement on the move implying the advent of the pandemic outbreak triggered approval of the need to implement concepts that were already proposed at fundamental level. Hence, the timely realisation of several digital technologies as recorded by (Ting et al., 2020). Moreover, product development and deployment picked up easily due to the availability and willingness of several research bodies including government to share information and technical data concerning design of prototypes, as exemplified by (MIT, 2020).

According to (Abel et al., 2011), Human beings are inherently innovative and artificial. This implies, regardless of one’s academic or professional training, there is the ability to contribute to a solution or getting out of a problematic situation. Additionally, as observed by (Atkinson, 2021), there is need to appreciate time as a production constraint, and to allocate valuable resources (effort) where there is a validated need; otherwise, human lives may be lost. This is a new thinking and would be directly applicable to emergency situations that require not only operational vigilance but innovation and development effort.

Technology adaptation and innovation

The pace at which new innovations were realised following the Covid-19 pandemic, had to call for keen observation and definition of workable pattern. This was coupled with the ability to appreciate what is available not only in terms of material resource but also human capital or expertise and the readiness to seek knowledge, collaboration and establish partnerships.

Further,  (Abel et al., 2011) noted: “Whereas the industrial era was mainly about designing products for the masses, in the post-industrial digital era (or the information age), masses themselves are seizing the chance to design, manufacture and distribute products. This was accelerated and refined by the need to harness technological developments necessary to prevent and protect society against the spread of Covid-19.

Figure 1 Open Design & Innovation Framework

Figure 1 above, is the observed trend across a varied and random search for technology innovations and implementations realised within the Covid-19 pandemic so far, and through both published sources, media reports and news articles, (Adong, 2020; Kamugisha, 2020; Mathiszig-Lee et al., 2020).

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Figure 1. Cambridge Consultants made use of software simulation, and hardware-in-the-loop simulations. Image credit: Cambridge Consultants

Although the prevalence of Open designs and ease of collaboration facilitated the needed innovation in various parts of the world, governments ensured access to basic funding through small scale grants and lobby of mainstream manufacturers to partner for the full-scale production and to facilitate market entry of these products.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Just like the rest of the world, in response to the Covid-19 Pandemic, the African continent and Uganda in particular had a shot at “I can do it” and got to test it out. The Global community was unanimously and naturally in agreement that there is a problem and the solution had to be the constituent contribution of all. Technology was part of the answer. Each country had to take stock of their resource capacity and act accordingly. 

This article has explored the underlying trends that characterised the successful approach to design and manufacture of Covid-19 preventive tools and equipment in most countries across the world. It has also provided reference to technology innovations realised worldwide, whose approach and team composition signified an Open-Design philosophy, as well as demonstrated the importance of onboarding cross-disciplinary teams for efficient production results. Further work shall be aimed at undertaking a systematic review of technical publications of works across engineering and the scientific community, to help provide the academic reader and researcher, with sufficient information to further their works.   These observations shall be important to set regulation, guide policy formulation, define work methods, and standards development by industry sectors, professional practice bodies, and governments. This will eventually guide society on the best way to harness technological developments and safeguard against times of emergency or constrained timelines such as was caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

References and bibliography

Abel, B. van, Evers, L., Klaassen, R., & Troxler, P. (2011). Open Design Now | Why design cannot remain exclusive. BIS. http://opendesignnow.org/

Adong, H. (Makerere U. R. and I. F. (Mak-R. . (2020, June 17). Unveiling Progress of the Low Cost Medical Ventilator (Bulamu Ventilator). Https://Sph.Mak.Ac.Ug/News/. https://sph.mak.ac.ug/news/unveiling-progress-low-cost-medical-ventilator-bulamu-ventilator

Atkinson, D. H. (2021, December). Guest blog: Engineering lessons from the pandemic. The Engineer. https://www.theengineer.co.uk/engineering-pandemic-lessons/

Gomes, J. C., De, V. A., Barbosa, F., Santana, M. A., Bandeira, J., Mêuser, ·, Silva Valença, J., Emmanuel De Souza, R., Masood, A., Wellington, I. ·, & Dos Santos, P. (2020). IKONOS: An intelligent tool to support diagnosis of Covid-19 by texture analysis of x-ray images. MedRxiv, 20092346. https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.05.05.20092346

Kamugisha, C. (Makerere U. R. and I. F. (2020, August). “Mak unveils a Touchless Handwashing Kit for public shared spaces in response to Covid-19 pandemic. – Makerere University News.” Makerere University – Research and Innovations Fund (Mak-RIF). https://rif.mak.ac.ug/mak-unveils-a-touchless-handwashing-kit-for-public-shared-spaces-in-response-to-covid-19-pandemic/

Maharana, A., Amutorine, M., Sengeh, M. D., & Nsoesie, E. O. (2021). Covid-19 and beyond: Use of digital technology for pandemic response in Africa. Scientific African, 14, e01041. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sciaf.2021.e01041

Mathiszig-Lee, J. (Imperial C. L., Sherwood, J. ( I. C. L., Madekurozwa, M., & Frattolin, J. (2020, April). “Imperial team develops low-cost emergency ventilator.” The Engineer. https://www.theengineer.co.uk/imperial-team-develops-low-cost-emergency-ventilator/

MathWorks. (2020). Designing Ventilators for the COVID-19 Pandemic – MATLAB & Simulink. MathWorks News & Stories. https://www.mathworks.com/company/mathworks-stories/designing-ventilators-for-the-covid-19-pandemic.html

MIT. (2020). MIT Emergency Ventilator | Design Toolbox. MIT. https://emergency-vent.mit.edu/

Relova, R. M., & Goldschmidt, L. (2020). “Afterword: The impacts of novel and emerging technologies on a pandemic.” In Patient-Centered Digital Healthcare Technology: Novel applications for next generation healthcare systems (pp. 287–294). Institution of Engineering and Technology. https://doi.org/10.1049/PBHE017E_afterword

Ting, D. S. W., Carin, L., Dzau, V., & Wong, T. Y. (2020). “Digital technology and Covid-19.” In Nature Medicine (Vol. 26, Issue 4, pp. 459–461). Nature Research. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41591-020-0824-5

Zaki, M. (2019). “Digital transformation: harnessing digital technologies for the next generation of services.” Journal of Services Marketing, 33(4), 429–435. https://doi.org/10.1108/JSM-01-2019-0034

Editor’s Note

Founder of ICT Embedded Uganda Limited.

Mr. Waidhuba is a graduate electronics engineer registered with the Institute of Engineers (IEM), Malaysia (#104186) and holds a Master of Philosophy in Engineering from UCSI University, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. His current interests are in software and communication systems design, technology, project management and research.

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