News In Context

Necessity Is The Mother Of Invention And Collaboration

Necessity Is The Mother Of Invention And Collaboration

The coronavirus outbreak is prompting all sorts of collaborations between large companies, startups, entrepreneurs and scientists to adapt existing products or invent new ones to help with the pandemic.

Medical device maker Medronic, one of a handful of producers of ventilators needed to treat critically ill coronavirus patients, isn’t just ramping up its production lines. It is opening its patents to help with the shortage. Techcrunch reports how Medtronic is making the full design specifications, product manuals, design documents and, in the future, software code for its Puritan Bennett (PB) 560 portable ventilator hardware, available to anyone. There are plenty of efforts underway to produce ventilators and design new ventilators that manufacturers of other devices, like vacuum maker Dyson, can put into production. And others are trying to modify existing hardware to serve more patients. But this move by Medtronic makes freely available everything needed to open up new production lines at existing manufacturers around the world — without any costs or fees owed to Medtronic. While retooling a production line to build a different product is not easy Medtronic’s move is intended to provide the resources necessary for anyone looking at what they can build today — a blueprint to spawn new and innovative ideas. Manufacturers might be able to look at Medtronic’s proven design and engineer something they can build at scale relatively quickly that offers the same or similar performance characteristics. Medtronic says the design is particularly well-suited for “inventors, startups, and academic institutions” looking to spin up production in short order and create their own adapted designs.

Meanwhile, the global tech community is calling for everyone to join “The Global Hack”, an online event taking place April 9–12 that is expected to attract over one million participants. The hackathon will share and rapidly develop ideas for urgently needed solutions to the pandemic and resilience post-crisis. The “Hack the Crisis” hackathon initiative, which started in Estonia, has rapidly grown into a worldwide movement. Countries that have joined include Estonia, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Finland, Moldova, Germany, Belarus, India, U.K., Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Hungary, Canada, France, Bulgaria, Switzerland, Sweden, Portugal, Turkey, Norway, Netherlands, Afghanistan, Republic of Kosovo, Denmark, Australia, Cyprus, Albania, Madagascar, Benin and Georgia. And the list is growing.

Separately, California-based product design company CAD Crowd launched a month-long contest to crowdsources ideas for practical devices for navigating the new coronavirus world, reports Reuters. About 65 entries have poured in, including a wrist-mounted disinfectant sprayer, half gloves for knuckle-pushing of buttons and a device that lets you open car doors without touching the handle, aimed at cab users.

The pandemic is also spawning other types of collaboration. For example, food delivery startups are partnering with traditional grocery stories, reports Reuters. Uber Eats is teaming up with French supermarket group Carrefour for a new delivery service aimed at helping Parisians buy essential goods and food. In Spain is partnering with Galp, an energy and gas station group, to provide home deliveries of cleaning products and toiletries from its convenience stores. In Brazil, Uber Eats will also work with pharmacies, convenience stores and pet shops to get supplies flowing.

Berlin-based online marketplace Delivery Hero has also made changes to its operations spanning more than 40 countries to help get groceries to customers In addition to Carrefour, it is working with other supermarkets to deliver groceries, such as with ICA in Sweden and Walmart in Argentina.

In Britain, Deliveroo, another startup food delivery service, announced two services last month to help people who are self-isolating because of the coronavirus — the first supplying essentials, such as tinned goods, pasta and household items, and the second, a tie-up with Marks & Spencer’s stores.

Businesses are not just collaborating they are helping each other.

Finextra reports that Spain’s CaixaBank has moved to aid retailers hit by the Covid-19 pandemic by launching technology that enables them to sell over social networks and messaging applications. As small businesses are forced to shut their physical doors during the crisis many are scrambling to get online operation up and running. To help them make sales CaixaBank has rolled out Social Commerce, which lets retailers manage online purchases directly from their profiles on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, Telegram and other networks. Customers receive the offers via the business’ social profile and messaging applications, and, if they like the product, they can buy it through a link that takes them directly to the payment instructions. The retailer receives the information on the sale that it has just made, and it can then start to manage the shipment of the order. CaixaBank has also rolled out a service called PayGold, which lets firms receive payments online, by email or text message, without the need for a website.

A new initiative in Germany called Innovation For Now is serving as a vehicle for established companies to offer services to aid smaller businesses whose operations are being hampered by the pandemic. Examples include Wirecard, a global Internet technology and financial services provider, which is offering free contactless payment POS terminals or free e-commerce tools for small German merchants such as bakeries and Deutsche Telekom which is offering free video conferencing and software.

Startups, in turn, are offering their technology tools to NGOs and health care workers. Techcrunch reports that Scoutbee, a German startup that has developed a supplier discovery platform, has rolled out a new free tool for organizations helping to fight the coronavirus pandemic and who are in need of critical supplies. Targeting NGOs, public bodies, local and national governments and healthcare providers, the platform does real-time analysis of terabytes of global supply chain data to significantly speed up the “request for proposal” (RFP) process. The idea is to help organizations find suppliers 75% faster for critically needed medical equipment and supplies, such as surgical masks, hazmat suits, swabs and tubes and hand sanitizers.

Meanwhile scientists are creating a global collaboration unlike any in history, reports The New York Times. Never before, researchers say, have so many experts in so many countries focused simultaneously on a single topic and with such urgency. Researchers have identified and shared hundreds of viral genome sequences. More than 200 clinical trials have been launched, bringing together hospitals and laboratories around the globe. “Of course there are people in competition. This is the human condition,” Dr. Yazdan Yazdanpanah, the director of infectious disease at Inserm in France said in an interview with The Times. “What is important is to come up with a solution for everyone. The way to achieve that is to collaborate.”

Also in the news this week:

A new project aims to foster a seamless door-to-door travel ecosystem across Europe that covers all mobility services by enhancing data-sharing practices in the public transport sector.

AI hiring is expected to show resilience amid coronavirus slowdown.

Rush to digitalization will see fintech sector flourish post COVID-19

Surge in downloads amid coronavirus outbreak expected to help double consumer app spending over five years

Startup 3D Prints A Rocket Engine

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About the author

Jennifer L. Schenker

Jennifer L. Schenker, an award-winning journalist, has been covering the global tech industry from Europe since 1985, working full-time, at various points in her career for the Wall Street Journal Europe, Time Magazine, International Herald Tribune, Red Herring and BusinessWeek. She is currently the editor-in-chief of The Innovator, an English-language global publication about the digital transformation of business. Jennifer was voted one of the 50 most inspiring women in technology in Europe in 2015 and 2016 and was named by Forbes Magazine in 2018 as one of the 30 women leaders disrupting tech in France. She has been a World Economic Forum Tech Pioneers judge for 20 years. She lives in Paris and has dual U.S. and French citizenship.