The light and technology guiding us to the “new normal”

By Joao Pola, UKI CEO at Signify

The televised national address from the Prime Minister on Sunday 10th May marked the first and critical step in easing restrictions on the UK lockdown, since its introduction back in March. Since then, we have seen announcements of further measures being lifted and a return for many non-essential retail stores planned for 15th June. Though the battle is far from over, we can begin to see a way forward. We can now start to focus on recovery, as the country – and indeed the world – looks to rebound from the terrible events of the first half of this year.

But as we emerge into what’s being described as the ‘new normal,’ we still find ourselves surrounded by uncertainty, left with more questions than answers. Not least: what does the future hold, and how can we tackle the new challenges we face? We all have our parts to play and I’ve been thinking about how light and technology can help in this transition.

Light and disinfection on the frontline

Light is an important part of our fight against COVID-19 today. All too often we take it for granted, only to realise just how important it is when it fails; when we’re left in the dark. Now, more than ever, the nation must be able to keep the lights on. Not just in hospitals, but essential services and businesses across the country, with dedicated people working around the clock in factories, supermarkets, transport networks, emergency services, army barracks, distribution centres and warehouses, maintaining key supply lines and ensuring that vital goods reach the people and services who need them. Light is a key component in ensuring that all of these remain operational and safe.

But light is also being used in innovative ways in the fight against the virus itself. Take Ultraviolet light (UV), for example. It comes in different forms. UV-A and UV-B in sunlight can makes us tan. UV-B also has medical applications encouraging the formation of bone-strengthening vitamin D in humans. But it’s UV-C that has huge potential in the fight against COVID-19.

Exposure to UV-C radiation is hazardous to humans and animals. Luckily, naturally occurring UV-C radiation is filtered out by the Earth’s atmosphere. Through UV-C disinfection lamps and systems, we can harness this power to breakdown the DNA and RNA of bacteria and viruses – disinfecting surfaces, air or water. As we emerge from lockdown and going forward, UV-C lighting could play a crucial role in helping us to disinfect public transport, as well as office, industrial, retail, and public buildings.

Adapting to the new normal

What’s become abundantly clear in recent weeks is that the impact of COVID-19 will continue to be felt by us all, and businesses of all shapes and sizes are going to have to adapt quickly and find innovative solutions if they are to embrace this ‘new normal’. It will set us challenges to overcome, but also prompt us all to rethink the established ways of operating. Here are four areas where lighting and technology could have a major impact:

  • Flexible environments – Offices, warehouses, shops and supermarkets will all need to become more flexible, able to deliver operational efficiency and effectiveness while allowing for potential social distancing and hygiene requirements. Sensors in connected lighting systems can be deployed to tackle this, enabling businesses to effectively manage and plan occupancy and social distancing in their workplaces.
  • Mental as well as physical wellbeing – As many embark on a gradual return to office environments across the country, there is a renewed focus on wellbeing in the workplace. The WELL Building Standard shows us that air, water, nourishment, mind, fitness, comfort and light are all crucial factors in creating a healthy indoor environment. Today, light can be used to create more dynamic natural spaces with a feeling of daylight inside, a subconscious feeling of comfort and thereby supporting our circadian rhythm at work.
  • Internet through light – The emphasis on digital connection during this time has been acute and this has placed a huge strain on networks. LiFi – two-way, high-speed wireless communication via light rather than radio signals – could be the new go-to medium for the internet, offering businesses more secure and stable connections.
  • Ensuring future food security – The pandemic has also posed enormous problems for global supply chains and food production. We will continue to see a demand for these to be more robust and for food security to be guaranteed. Evermore sophisticated and energy-efficient artificial lighting has made it possible to grow a host of crops at northerly latitudes, reducing the distance from farm-to-fork. This could not just transform the traditional farming sector, but also unlock the possibilities of vertical farming in our cities, as a means to efficiently produce certain crops more locally.

The global pandemic has had a huge impact on almost every aspect of our lives and will continue to do so for some time to come. It has also brought our digital future forward and placed technology at the heart of finding creative ways to tackle the new problems we face. Light and technology have an essential role to play in such times – whether unlocking the power of light to disinfect or helping all organisations to adapt to and succeed safely as we move into this ‘new normal’.

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