The Government Business Executive Forum on Sept. 2 held the first segment of its EDGE 2020 conference, which focused on the impact of COVID-19 on travel, innovation and the future.
Combining in-person and virtual elements, the event kicked off with Parsons President and CEO Carey Smith, who stressed the gravity of the pandemic. She talked about cases, unemployment, economic issues and even deaths in a time of social, political and environmental turmoil. Then she moved to a more positive note, saying times like these are times for innovation and problem-solving.
“You need to disrupt, or you will be disrupted as you look toward the future,” she said.
Smith then highlighted how COVID-19 has changed people’s lives. The companies that shape the future are going to be the companies that survive going forward, she said.
According to Smith, Parsons looked first at safety and then shifted its focus to three major campaign areas in its work to develop COVID-safe solutions: integrated testing and screening, bio surveillance and digital transformation. As part of its campaigns, Parsons developed a new product, DetectWise, to help improve the screening and data collection process.
Smith emphasized that COVID-19 has changed the world, and even after the pandemic ends, things will be different. There have been changes in health, social events and other interactions at huge magnitudes that will likely shape the future, she said.
“Much like security changed after 9/11, health screening is going to become a part of the future, a part of our lives so people can be safe, healthy and secure and return back to what is going to be the new normal,” Smith said.
The next speaker was the Transportation Department’s Finch Fulton, deputy assistant secretary for transportation policy. He reiterated the challenges COVID-19 has introduced, but said these hurdles have led to new innovations across the federal government.
He went on to discuss the impacts of COVID-19 on business, particularly travel, saying the pandemic has drastically changed how people travel, with inner-city travel cut significantly, especially public transit.
As a result of these changes, DOT has focused on its “transportation system of tomorrow,” an innovative project that develops new travel technology modernizations. When COVID-19 hit, the project zeroed in on automated vehicles and drone integration efforts, Finch said. It came up with a plan to remove barriers to the development and integration of automated vehicles through testing and other projects. Additionally, it increased the number of drones involved in the mail delivery process during the pandemic as a way to deliver medical supplies.
Finch also talked about DOT initiatives focused on making travel more accessible. Working from home has highlighted how important accessibility is, he said, which led the agency to think about how it can better support people with disabilities with new travel technology.
“We have a real opportunity right now to shape the future that we want for a safer, more efficient and more inclusive transportation system,” Finch said.
The next speaker was Consumer Technology Association Executive Vice President Karen Chupka, who brought up the way COVID-19 has changed how we develop and adopt new technology. Before the pandemic, many would have never imagined a virtual conference with attendees from around the world, she said.
Chupka also emphasized COVID-19’s impact on medicine, which led to the rapid adoption of telemedicine, which wasn’t as widely used in the U.S. She then highlighted its effects on education and how people were forced into developing virtual school, which has resulted in some struggles but also some innovations.
Chupka then discussed the impact of COVID-19 on digital event technologies, which were rapidly adopted across the world. Although nothing can currently fully replicate the face-to-face experience, it has been and will continue to be an interesting challenge, she said.
Additionally, Chupka discussed the impact of COVID-19 on the hotel and airport industries, whose business partly comes from large conferences. There has been a very fast implementation of touchless systems, telemedicine, automated technologies, holograms and even robots as a result of the pandemic, she said.
“I think what we’re going to see in the future is that this isn’t going to go away,” she said. “There’s going to be a better mix that we’ll see in live events plus virtual that are tacked onto it.”
The next speaker was John Wagner, who recently retired from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. He discussed the development of a touchless system to verify travelers and reduce congestion in airports. COVID-19 emphasized the need for this kind of technology, he said.
During the development process, Wagner and his team realized the key to building the most efficient version of this system was to focus on the travel experience, which requires travelers to repeatedly pull out their passports for verification while going through an airport.
To modernize this process, Wagner’s team created a passport photo database with the ability to search through photos of people flying that day for maximum accuracy and match them with photos taken by the system in an airport.
He then discussed how this system could be beneficial during the current pandemic and even after as the call for modernization continues.
“I think there is a lot of opportunity for innovation and ingenuity,” Wagner said. “And we’ll see what the future of travel looks like and how do we do that safely and securely.”
The next portion of the conference consisted of Parsons’ Sean Buckley and Jim Valerio demonstrating the DetectWise system Smith mentioned in her talk. They talked about the purpose of the device, which is to screen for any possible health conditions that could indicate COVID-19 during travel to make it easier to identify cases and contain the spread of the virus. This device uses facial recognition that looks at 36 facial points to determine a person’s temperature.
Buckley and Valerio also highlighted the device’s ability to facilitate telemedicine, which can connect a person showing any possible symptoms with a doctor to further screen the individual. It also uses technology to read hand gestures that move the cursor, making the device fully touchless.
Next, they talked about the data collection element of this device. DetectWise is able to collect and store data on each individual to make a personalized profile that provides a risk analytic for each person, making it easier to determine if someone needs to go through more intensive screening.
Lastly, they emphasized the importance of partnering with hospitals throughout the process to make their work more credible and useful in an applied context.
The conference ended with a thank-you message from Don Upson, founder and chairman of GBEF.