Six Technologies that Emerged in Difficult Times | Zebra Blog

Six Technologies that Emerged (or Became Popular) in Difficult Times

Conflicts, economic crises and pandemics were responsible for innovations such as the radio, computer and GPS.

Two firefighters look at a rugged tablet mounted in the console of their truck.
by David Anon
September 25, 2020

Necessity is the mother of invention. This famous proverb is just as relevant today as it was back during the ancient Greek era. History shows us that difficult times, such as wars, financial crises and epidemics were catalysts for the creation or improvement of technologies, solutions and businesses that dramatically changed the way we live. Times of need have the power to unite efforts and great minds toward a greater objective that leads to better days. For example, solutions such as the radio and the computer, which were initially used to win wars, ended up transforming to fulfill a new purpose in times of peace. But they weren’t the only technologies to have emerged in complicated moments with long-term and significant benefit to the mass population. Check out some other crisis-inspired inventions that have since become essential in our daily lives:

1. The Press

The Black Death, which afflicted Europe in the Middle Ages, may have been the fuel behind the invention of the press and the movable types that were ultimately responsible for the dissemination of mass knowledge. With the illness and death of copyist monks, Johannes Gutenberg saw the need to find another way to transcribe texts. His invention was the prototype of the first printer. Currently, the solution is present in all offices, stores and in most households. It is essential for an optimized operation in sectors such as industry, retail, healthcare and logistics. Today's corporate models are mobile and can be carried on belts, leaving teams with their hands free to print invoices, barcoded labels and radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, for example.

2. Radio and GPS

Although the first radio broadcast took place in the 19th century, broadcasting did not reach the general public until after World War I, when a company that manufactured troops’ communication devices found itself with huge stockpiles. GPS, which helps us get from point A to point B even in cities where we had never stepped foot before, was developed with radio technologies used in World War II. Since then, GPS has evolved to also facilitate new types of location solutions that are now used in factories, stores, warehouses and hospitals to locate people, products and equipment. It is because of GPS and radio technologies that we now have access to actionable real-time data that empowers us to make operations more efficient, especially in times of crisis and change – such as the current COVID-19 pandemic.

3. Computers

The first steps toward the invention of the computers that we know today were taken during World War II. Mathematician Alan Turing, considered the father of computing, helped the British to decipher Nazi codes with the Turing Machine, which was essential for the creation of the modern computer. Less than a hundred years later, our world revolves around computers, which have become mobile thanks to tablets and smartphones. They are essential in our personal lives and the successful operation of businesses around the world.

4. Tracking/RFID

Track and trace technology, which today allows businesses to follow the movements of orders throughout the entire supply chain – from the factory to the distribution center and then on to a customer’s store or home – emerged during the Cold War, when the American government saw the need to create a system to track nuclear material. Currently, tracking with RFID tags is essential for the operation of online stores and the operation of any sector that needs to know, in real time, the location of products, supplies, people or assets, whether stationary or on the move, in a facility or in the field. Tracking technologies have also become critical to capturing safety-related information, such as the batch distribution or origin of highly regulated items such as food, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, blood products and tobacco products. RFID has also proven vital to healthcare as it relates to patient identification and locationing, clinical workflow efficiency, safe medication and treatment administration and asset/supplies management.

5. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

The radio signal transmission technology that originated both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth® platform development was invented by actress Hedy Lamarr during the early years of World War II with the aim of preventing enemy ships from interfering with torpedo signals. Nowadays, the solutions are widely used around the world to allow the connection of all types of devices to the internet and one another, including your more traditional productivity and communication devices – smartphones, headsets, printers, computers – and traditionally “offline” things such as refrigerators, cooking appliances and water heaters. In a pandemic, solutions that combine Wi-Fi and Bluetooth can be used to maintain social distance in warehouses or facilities, remotely manage business technologies such as printers and mobile computers and facilitate “hands-free” voice communication and collaboration.

6. Shared Economy

The well-known shared economy delivered via apps like Uber and Airbnb emerged after the 2008 economic crisis, which led many people to rethink how to earn and spend money in the face of a recession and simmering technologies. These two companies (now worth $65 billion and $25 billion, respectively) paved the way for dozens – if not hundreds – of other businesses to succeed based on a service or commodity “sharing” model.

The Takeaway

As a society, we are going through a very difficult time right now. But if history has taught us anything, it is that we can expect great inventions from this period. Remember, necessity is the mother of invention. Thousands of professionals around the world are working hard on the development of vaccines, and technologies that track the spread of the virus. Others are coming up with creative ways to evolve industry so that we can sustain some level of “normalcy” in our personal and professional lives without sacrificing our well-being. (Life must go on, right?) It is expected that this collective effort will allow us to overcome existing challenges.  However, my hope (and personal expectation) is that these efforts will actually empower us to live better, healthier and more engaged.

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Editor’s Note:

To learn more about the technology solutions currently available to help your business increase efficiency, safety and productivity amidst uncertainty and constant change, please visit our website or reach out to the Zebra team in your region.

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David Anon
David Añón is an entrepreneurial, innovative marketing executive with years of global experience guiding brands through periods of accelerated growth. He has innate acumen in leveraging customer insights, channel engagement, and market demand to development data driven sophisticated marketing strategies aimed at enhancing revenue and expanding brand metrics. David is a member of the Global Marketing Leadership at Zebra and oversees the overall marketing efforts across Latin America and the Caribbean.
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