Innovation That Matters

Next-generation trends 2022: Post-COVID-19 acceleration

Next Generation Trends

Habitual hygiene and the workplace reimagined are just a couple of the key issues set to shape business plans over the coming months

The second part of our end-of-year series focuses on the trends and innovations accelerated by COVID-19.

World War II, the Great Depression, 9/11: global turmoil has always been a catalyst for innovation – and COVID-19 has created the perfect laboratory for developing and testing new thinking. Multiple paradigm shifts across every sector have reshaped organisations and society almost overnight – and are continuing to do so at pace.

Businesses not only have to keep up with the operational fallout of the pandemic – they must also reconsider some of the fundamental ways people live, work and consume today.

A recent survey shows that 75 per cent of people believe that business responses to COVID-19 raised the bar for brands when it comes to fighting some of the world’s biggest problems. With other critical issues, including climate change, on the horizon, what will your business be doing to address them? Fortunately, innovators are already on the case, developing solutions to a host of next-generation issues affecting everything from the workplace to the way we travel.

Trend #1: Habitual hygiene

While social distancing became the norm during 2020, there may be reluctance to continue with it in the long term as more of the global population receive vaccinations. Instead, the emphasis is likely to shift to what businesses can do to keep people safe in shops, offices and other public spaces. 

‘Environmental hygiene’ will require businesses to maintain visible signs of cleanliness as a way of ensuring public safety without individuals having to think about it. And it’s with this in mind that innovators are finding creative solutions.

The innovations:

In the Netherlands, an ultraviolet light concept is cleaning air and helping to make evening events safer. Studio Roosegaarde’s Urban Sun uses far-UVC light – a narrow subset of UV light that is safe for use around humans, and has germicidal properties.

In the USA, Florida-based Fog-Ez has developed a fully automated system that enables businesses to disinfect surfaces on a pre-set schedule. This system uses a dry fog of chemicals—approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency—to inactivate pathogens. The fog is emitted through sprinkler nozzles which are permanently installed within a space or facility.

Also in the USA, a bio-inspired surface cleaner makes toilets self-cleaning. Created by a team of Penn State researchers, the non-toxic, bio-inspired surface cleaner repels sticky dirt. The two-step ‘spotLESS’ materials spray creates nanoscopic hairs coated with lubricant, forcing sticky substances to slide off the coated surface. The spray is quick to apply, easy to use and acts in only five minutes. Its main ingredient is silicone, which biodegrades naturally.

Trend #2: Plane drain

If aviation was a country, it would be the world’s 20th largest by GDP. That’s why the impact of COVID-19 on the airline industry matters so much. In 2020, industry revenues were around 40 per cent of the previous year, with projections suggesting traffic won’t return to 2019 levels before 2024.

The complicating factor is whether, as a planet, we can afford for these levels to return. A study warns that if the aviation industry continues to grow at about three per cent per year, then it will be responsible for nearly 0.1°C of heating by 2050.

So, while customer demand for international travel is unlikely to decrease, innovators are working on solutions that enable people to enjoy the benefits of visiting far-away places in more eco-sensitive ways.

The innovations:

In Sweden, an electric aeroplane needs only 750 metres of runway and can fly 250 miles. Designed by aviation startup Heart Aerospace, the 19-seat ES-19 plane runs on a combination of electric motors and batteries. Working towards a goal of having full commercial certification by 2026, the company is now working on the plane’s de-icing capability and all-important flight controls.

A French-US partnership is working on a new aeroplane engine prototype that could reduce flight emissions by 20 per cent or more. The open rotor aeroplane engine—produced by CFM International—has the potential for double-digit reductions in both emissions and fuel consumption. The prototype’s carbon fibre composite fan blades help reduce weight and noise, and, with no engine cover, more of the blades’ surface area is exposed to the air.

In the USA, an electric plane that uses a novel take-off and landing system could save energy and allow for longer flights. While most electric plane designs make use of traditional vertical take-off and landing features, the landing gear on a Metro Hop accelerates the plane’s flight speed on take-off, and decelerates it on landing. It also enables the plane to take off on a 25-metre rubber roll-out airstrip.

Trend #3: Workplace reimagined

Before the pandemic, flexible and remote working were the exception for many rather than the rule. Following the largest work-from-home experiment in history, that’s no longer the case. Where we work and how we interact with the space when we’re there has fundamentally changed.

Add to this ‘The Great Resignation’, a large-scale redistribution of talent and a generational shift in attitudes to work-life balance, and it’s clear that businesses will need to continue to rethink their spatial operations. Innovator solutions to these issues range from productivity-boosting mobile work pods to indoor air quality monitoring.

The innovations:

In the UK, a fleet of bookable, next-generation work pods are designed to enhance human health and productivity in today’s post-pandemic landscape. Designed by London-based Make.Work.Space, the pods, which will be located in major train stations, public buildings and shopping centres, are bookable through an app. Once inside, users can control the environment settings, including temperature and lighting for optimum productivity.

In the US, a short-form video app is making work chats more personal and efficient. Described as ‘Zoom meets Snapchat’, the Popcorn app allows users to record and send bite-sized video messages called ‘pops’. The idea is that teammates can create pops to check in with colleagues, or to send quick updates to team members instead of long emails, direct messages or even meetings. 

In Poland, a new online calculator can determine the likely levels of carbon dioxide in indoor spaces. This helps users avoid headaches and other effects of high CO2 levels. The Omni Calculator Project asks users to enter data such as the type of room they’re in, how many people are inside, whether it was previously empty, whether the occupants are resting or doing strenuous work, how long they normally stay in the room, and the room’s dimensions. The calculator then provides the CO2 concentration as both a percentage of the air and in parts per million (ppm).  

Trend #4: COVID-19 as catalyst

Amid the myriad stressors of the past COVID-19-focused years, creativity is blooming in many sectors. And while many innovations are solving immediate, pandemic-related challenges, others are the result of an opportunity to step back and look at the bigger picture.

Despite a nearly four per cent drop in annual GDP during 2020, international patent applications increased by 4 per cent year-on-year, reaching a record 275,900 filings, despite the ongoing pandemic.

These new ideas and innovations will be critical in 2022 – not only for solving a range of societal problems, but also because they could help stimulate economic growth. Innovators the world over are already developing solutions that they hope will have practical applications for a range of sectors long after the pandemic crisis has abated.

The innovations:

In Hong Kong, social distancing has sparked an idea for a conceptual bus redesign that helps elderly passengers travel safely. The Asit bus model prioritises accessibility and mobility for all passengers. Hydraulic seats and integrated handles improve ease of access and fold up when not in use, ensuring maximum floor space. Interior space is further maximised through the placing of the stairs next to the door for the swifter movement of passengers on and off the bus.

In the USA, a platform enables drive-thru workers to take customer orders remotely – not only allowing for social distancing, but also tackling the shortage of hospitality workers. Bite Ninja’s concept works by providing restaurants with a pool of gig workers who are managed and scheduled centrally, instead of by the restaurant.

Also in the USA, connected AI toilets are tracking bowel health with every flush to monitor gastrointestinal public health. Created by the Duke Smart Toilet Lab, an AI-enabled camera located in the piping provides automated tracking of samples over a period of time. As well as monitoring for COVID-19, installing the system throughout a building allows for rapid identification of healthcare-acquired infections. This helps facilities such as long-term elderly care homes better manage early outbreaks of exceptionally contagious diseases.

Trend #5: Good travel
A boost to the travel and tourism industry is a boost to the economy. And it’s sorely needed: in 2019, the sector contributed 10.4 per cent to global GDP; a share which decreased to 5.5 per cent in 2020 due to ongoing restrictions to mobility.

Now, with 80 per cent of travellers not intending to resume their ‘usual’ habits once the pandemic is over, innovators are exploring solutions that encourage and improve the way we spend and enjoy our leisure time away from home.

The innovations

In the USA, Fisker is developing an all-electric, luxury SUV with a vegan interior. The company is calling the car the world’s most sustainable vehicle. In addition to the all-electric motor, the Ocean has a solar roof, all-vegan interior and carpets made of recycled material. The company has also said it will use the rubber left over from tire manufacturing. The car promises a 482 kilometre range, and can reach 96 kilometres per hour in under three seconds, all powered by a 80-kilowatt-an-hour lithium-ion battery pack.

A nomadic hospitality company that equips boutique hotels with environmentally friendly modular suites, has created a set of luxury hotel rooms on wheels. For this, the US-based company partnered with modular fabricator SG Blocks, using recycled and eco-friendly materials to make the structure. The rooms have rooftop solar panels that provide power and minimise carbon footprint. 

French startup Midnight Trains seeks to make comfortable, overnight train travel an easy alternative to budget airlines. Rather than fly with a company that offers no in-flight amenities, sleeper trains provide comfort, ease of access and a journey that is only slightly longer than a flight on many European routes. The company plans to introduce its first line in 2024 with at least 10 routes planned, connecting a range of cities across the continent including Edinburgh, Berlin, Milan, and Porto.

Words: Hannah Hudson

Read the other parts in our series here:

Next-generation trends 2022: Regeneration and biodiversity
Next-generation trends 2022: Ocean sustainability
Next-generation trends 2022: Cities and the built environment
Next-generation trends 2022: Eco-consumption

Wondering what these trends mean for your business in the year ahead? Springwise provides world class intelligence, insights and horizon scanning for disrupted times and is powered by our global network of innovators.  Sign up to our free newsletters to receive our latest insights or email for further information.