17 pandemic innovations that are here to stay

Fund: For about a decade, robotics companies have attempted to popularize the use of mobile robots that move the sidewalk at the speed of a running pedestrian, primarily to deliver food from restaurants to residential customers. The technology, however, failed to catch on due to a small delivery market and mistrust of interactions with robots – until the pandemic struck.

What has changed during the pandemic: When Covid-19 first struck and people still weren’t sure how the virus was transmitted, demand for social distance services exploded. As delivery services became particularly popular – the market doubled during the pandemic – the potential for a completely contactless transaction via robots has caught the attention of small business owners like Ji Hye Kim, founder of Miss Kim, a restaurant that used robotic delivery in Ann Arbor, Mich. “We were told to stay home and socially distanced. So just this idea that we were dealing with less human contact suddenly became very appealing, ”she said. Since then, the technology has seen a drastic increase in its popularity. Starship Technologies, one of the early pioneers of pre-pandemic delivery robots, is now deploying more than 1,000 robots across the country, nearly quadruple the number they started with before the pandemic, and making around 10,000 deliveries per day. The only challenge the company faces is building robots quickly enough to meet demand, according to Ryan Tuohy, senior vice president of business development and sales at Starship.

Why it will stick: Robotics companies believe robots are the future of delivery services because they are much more efficient than cars, said Ali Kashani, CEO of Serve Robotics: “Two-pound burritos are being moved in 2-ton cars. . It doesn’t make a lot of sense, ”he said. Since robots are smaller and use less fuel, they are a more durable and economical option than automobiles. “I think there is a very user-friendly and fun future where robots maybe help us reshape our cities into much greener, more pedestrian and more user-friendly environments,” Kashani said. – Catherine Kim

Optional college exams

Fund: Higher education institutions have long demanded that applicants submit results on standardized tests, believing that performance on the SAT or ACT was a reliable indicator of success in the first year of college. Critics have long argued that the tests disadvantage students of color and first-generation students.

What has changed during the pandemic: Testing companies had to cancel testing in the spring of 2020 because it was suddenly unsafe for students to sit together at testing sites to take exams. As a result, hundreds of colleges and universities across the country that previously required the exams have temporarily adopted an admission policy for the optional tests. Only 1.5 million students in the high school class of 2021 took the SAT, compared to 2.2 million in the class of 2020. ACT saw a 22% drop in the number of applicants.

Why it will stick: Many colleges and universities have found that elective testing policies help increase applications from students of color and first-generation students, especially at highly selective colleges, suggesting that ACT and SAT scores have been an obstacle that prevented them even from applying. Several institutions, including New York University, have reported an increase of tens of thousands of first-year undergraduate applications. Today, many colleges, including the elite University of California system, have removed their SAT and ACT mandates. – Bianca Quilantan

Direct cash assistance

Fund: For decades, the idea of ​​giving Americans government benefits in the form of money has been somewhat frowned upon. Instead, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have generally preferred to provide in-kind government assistance, such as food stamps or health care coverage. The general concern was that beneficiaries would spend money inappropriately.

What has changed during the pandemic: When the economy closed in the spring of 2020, Congress decided to keep the economy afloat by handing out unprecedented levels of direct cash assistance to millions of Americans in the form of stimulus checks that recipients could. spend as they need. A year after the start of the pandemic, lawmakers approved child tax credit payments, giving families with children historic levels of assistance. This money helped prevent food insecurity from rising even as the economy bottomed out. And tracking by the U.S. Census Bureau indicated that benefits tended to pay for things lawmakers wanted them to pay for, especially food and other household needs.

Why it will stick: Whether the child tax credits will be extended remains to be seen. During the next great crisis, however, there’s a good chance Congress will once again turn to direct aid, which is much faster and easier to administer than in-kind benefits. The economy has rebounded much faster than expected, and Washington’s money has had a lot to do with it. – Hélène Bottemiller Évitch

Online education

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