Four weird and wonderful inventions sparked by the pandemic

From wind instrument covers to germ-killing robots, necessity was the mother of invention for these pandemic creations
Mira Robotics' Ugo avatar robot sterilizes a door handle with ultraviolet light during a demonstration at the company's laboratory in Kawasaki, Japan, June 8, 2020 (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)
Mira Robotics’ Ugo avatar robot sterilizes a door handle with ultraviolet light during a demonstration at the company’s laboratory in Kawasaki, Japan June 8, 2020. Picture taken June 8, 2020. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)

COVID-19 sparked a number of inventions—some practical and some niche. Here are a few of those wacky and wonderful creations:

Purified Personal Space

Some pandemic office-goers invested in desk-sized air purifiers (ranging from $80 to $1,000) to filter out unwelcome saliva droplets from co-workers. There’s no scientific evidence proving their effectiveness in reducing the transmission of COVID-19, but Public Health Ontario did state that the ones with HEPA filters could potentially remove virus particles from the air, reducing the risk of exposure and improving air quality.

Desk air purifier
Desk air purifier

Compostable PPE

Roswell Downhole Technologies Inc., a Calgary-based oil and gas tubing company, partnered with Precision ADM, a Winnipeg medical device company, to create 100 per cent compostable personal protective equipment. They used biopolymers made from starch and proteins from living organisms. The fabric is currently undergoing acceptability testing at composting facilities.

Cover Your Wind

McCormick’s, a marching band equipment provider based outside of Chicago, started selling nylon covers for clarinets, flutes and other instruments. McCormick’s CEO, Alan Yefsky, says the invention stemmed from research stating that aerosols escape from the finger holes in certain musical instruments. “We created a bag to fit each [one] with hand access holes in the appropriate places,” he explains.

(Courtesy of McCormick’s)
(Courtesy of McCormick’s)

Killer bots

Japanese startup Mira Robotics designed a multipurpose bot named Ugo to assist Japan’s aging population with household tasks like washing dishes and folding laundry. But the pandemic revealed a higher calling as its developers realized Ugo could kill viruses on door handles using ultraviolet light.

This article appears in print in the December 2021 issue of Maclean’s magazine with the headline, “Light-bulb moments.” Subscribe to the monthly print magazine here.