Digital platforms adapt in novel ways during the coronavirus pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted how digital platforms are contributing to our overall resilience and allowing large parts of society to continue functioning during lockdowns. In many cases, digital platforms such as video conferencing, eCommerce, or eLearning are being used as they were originally intended. In this signal post we take a look at platforms that are being adapted or used in novel ways during the pandemic.

The entertainment and sports world has been upended as movie theatres, sports venues, and concerts have been forced to close to avoid the risks associated with large crowds. Digital platforms are helping to fill the gap. Gaming platforms, such as Fortnite and Minecraft, are being used in new and innovative ways to host live concerts and music festivals. Over 12 million people watched Travis Scott’s concert on Fortnite and after the South By South West (SXSW) music festival was cancelled, a group turned to Minecraft to recreate the experience and held a Block By Block West festival online. After sporting leagues were suspended, eSports platforms have been used to host professional athletes playing cricket, football/soccer, and even Formula One races.

Maintaining physical distance and sanitizing our hands are two of the mantras used around the world to “flatten the curve”. While the days of side-by-side selfies are on hold for a while, Apple was recently awarded a patent for Synthetic Group Selfies. While they applied for the patent in 2018, well before the coronavirus, it is perfectly suited for physical distancing because it will allow a user to add photos of other people to their selfies making it look like they were side-by-side.

Sanitizing shared vehicles, like taxis and police cars, is time-consuming and difficult. Ford has issued a software update to the vehicle management platform in their Police Interceptor Utility Vehicles to use the cabin heating system to neutralize viruses. Honda and other auto manufacturers are also looking at ways to modify their vehicle platforms to reduce the risk from the coronavirus.

With a large part of the global population staying at home, ride-hailing platforms have seen large decreases in ridership. Companies like Uber are expanding their platforms and re-directing this capacity by rolling out Uber Direct and Uber Connect to allow businesses to send packages directly to home-bound customers and allowing people to send a package from their house to a nearby friend or relative.

eLearning platforms have become the primary vehicles to educate school children and university students. However, some areas of study are more complicated and face additional challenges. Medical students rely on hands-on learning but with hospital access restricted to essential workers, Tokyo Women’s Medical University is using a specially designed Virtual Reality (VR) platform to livestream surgeries to VR headsets worn by medical students at home.

In addition to increasing the resilience of our society during the pandemic, digital platforms are also showing how resilient they are by adapting in novel ways.

Selected articles and websites

How digital platforms are helping us manage through the coronavirus
New norm: Musicians performing on video game platforms
Philly band brings international lineup to live music festival in Minecraft
Coronavirus and the virtual sports revolution
George Russell wins 3rd F1 esports race in a row in simulated Azerbaijan Grand Prix
Apple patents socially-distant selfies
How Ford Turned Its Cop Cars Into Giant Ovens to Kill Coronavirus
Moving more of what matters with delivery
A Tokyo hospital is livestreaming surgeries in Virtual Reality

Phill White

Research Scientist Global X-Network