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Proptech’s Role in Defending Against COVID-19 and Future Pandemics

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The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has captured the world’s attention with infected individuals in 169 countries and a rising death toll. This virulent pandemic has profoundly changed people’s daily lives and the way businesses operate. COVID-19 has mandated social distancing to promote fewer face-to-face interactions to contain the spread of the virus. With social distancing in place, people are encouraged to stay home as much as possible and to keep a distance of 6 feet or more between themselves and others if they do leave home. Even more disturbing are the reports that COVID-19 can be contracted from touching surfaces that an infected person touched. Property technology (proptech), the digital and technological transformation of the real estate sector and built spaces, is on the cutting edge and can play a crucial role in mitigating future viral outbreaks. Now more than ever, we need to utilize technology to combat deadly viruses. The rapid evolution of proptech with electronic devices that allows people to open doors with their voice, face, or phone without the use of a manual key, avoiding contact with surfaces is essential during these times. The health and safety of the American people is dependent upon implementation of innovative technological solutions in proptech, a sector where in the first half of 2019, venture capitalists (VC) invested $14 billion.

Some of the ways that proptech can deal with future contagion outbreaks are obvious:

• Increasing the number of keyless entry and smart lighting systems in homes and offices and elevators that utilize voice command recognition requiring people to not have to touch potentially infected surfaces. Using voice command is critical, as a recent study found that the coronavirus can survive on hard surfaces such as stainless steel and plastic for up to 72 hours.
• Non-contact infrared thermometer screenings placed in building entryways can be activated during a viral outbreak to measure body temperature and to restrict potentially symptomatic individuals from entering into a public space and infecting people when they are sick. The lack of contact when using digital thermometers allows for larger screenings in public spaces and minimizes human contact during an outbreak.
Drones can use ultraviolet (UV) light and disinfectant sprays to sterilize rooms and areas tainted with infectious bacteria or viruses, avoiding human exposure to contagious viruses like COVID-19.
Utilizing modern antibacterial metallic materials like zinc or silver to coat high-touch surfaces can help to reduce the transmission of viruses and bacteria from spreading.
• Blockchain technology that allows consumers to manage the supply chains of essential items via end-to-end product traceability to prevent hoarding during a crisis so we can all be guaranteed visibility, trust, and delivery of the items we need.

Proptech allows us to think of a future where we can make buildings a safe zone equipped with an infrastructure to operate during a pandemic. As we limit activities outside the home and minimize contact to reduce viral transmission during this pandemic, we need to envision creative solutions such as technology that saves time and lessens dependence on human interaction and sorting.

In a world where global pandemics are a fact of life, we can design modern “smart” buildings that (when necessary) would allow very little social interaction during outbreaks, but could still have open spaces to allow people to work from home and relax. When it comes to the issue of working at home, proptech means that when we are thinking of apartment buildings we’ve traditionally thought of living and play spaces, but now innovators are thinking of coworking spaces. Ordinarily, people utilized “WeWork” and coworking services but now developers of rental apartment buildings are prioritizing having desk space for people that are wired appropriately for remote teleworking and for students to take part in virtual education.

In short, proptech offers innovative affordable solutions for dealing with the challenges of global transmission of deadly viruses. Proptech’s transformational approaches will revolutionize how we prepare homes and office buildings to defend against COVID-19 and future pandemics. To that point, it would be beneficial for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to establish a “Proptech Task Force” to study how the government can spur proptech innovation and to determine where oversight is needed to ensure technologies are not causing unintended societal consequences i.e. misidentification by facial recognition systems. Doing so will ensure that the benefits of proptech’s groundbreaking innovation can serve as a means of controlling deadly viral outbreaks.

John H. Jones focuses on the intersection between the financial services, real estate and technology industries. John served on Capitol Hill for over 15 years, where he worked as a chief of staff to a senior member of congress. He holds an MBA from the University of Minnesota’s Curtis L. Carlson School of Management. Connect with him on Twitter (@MrJohnHJones) or LinkedIn.

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