How COVID Is Spurring Tech Innovations

In this episode of Industry Focus: Wildcard, Emily Flippen is joined by Motley Fool intern Meilin Quinn to discuss how some companies are leading with tech innovations since the COVID-19 outbreak. As Meilin's internship is about to end, she talks about her experience at The Motley Fool and her plans. They look at how some tech has been repurposed for COVID-19. Also, as more and more tech receives wider acceptance, what are the privacy implications, and how have they been addressed so far? Meilin also shares some stocks to keep on your watchlist and much more.

To catch full episodes of all The Motley Fool's free podcasts, check out our podcast center. To get started investing, check out our quick-start guide to investing in stocks. A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on July 15, 2020.

Emily Flippen: Welcome to Industry Focus. It's Wednesday, July 15, and I'm your host, Emily Flippen. This week I am joined once again by Motley Fool intern Meilin Quinn, as we take a look at some of the innovations that we've seen in technology since the outbreak of COVID.

Meilin, thank you so much for joining again; it's always such a pleasure to have you on.

Meilin Quinn: Thank you so much for having me again, Emily; I'm very excited to have our conversation.

Flippen: And I mentioned this earlier, that you're a Motley Fool intern, and so before you roll into it, I know that you only have a couple of weeks left before the end of your internship, but I have to ask, how is your internship going?

Quinn: It's going wonderfully. The time has just flown by. There are only two weeks left of the internship, and I've got to figure out what I'll do for my remaining months of summer. I am working from Alexandria, Virginia, where Motley Fool HQ is, but I'm actually from Hawaii where there's a two-week quarantine mandate for anyone who enters the island, and I'd rather not have to deal with that, and with flying, in general. So, I'll see what my options are after the internship ends.

But about my internship experience, over the past month and a half, I've gotten to work with and meet some really amazing Fools and I've been able to really make my internship my own. I've been able to be on this podcast and so much more, and it seems that it's not uncommon at The Motley Fool that if you're interested in something there's a Fool willing to talk to you about it or there's a way to get involved with it. And that's something I've really appreciated about my internship.

Flippen: Oh! That's great to hear, and it's definitely true. We like to say that Motley Fool employees wear many hats at this organization, and it's very true for our employees, but our interns as well. You mentioned that there's a quarantine back for Hawaii; I know this pandemic has definitely left a lot of things up in the air, but do you have plans for once your internship ends?

Quinn: Well, I really love to travel, but that's not looking like it'll be much of a possibility. So many states have quarantine mandates, and also, it's not the safest option. So, one thing is that, I am studying for my CFA exam, which I plan to take in December, so I'll probably dedicate my last month before school starts in the fall to really getting down to studying for that.

Flippen: Ah! Me too, me too, I am taking a level 2 in December myself. I know the pain that you're inevitably [laughs] going through right now and through the remainder of the year, so you have my full sympathy. Again, I apologize, I'm harping on the internship, but I really think it's really relevant, because I know a lot of our listeners may be interested in pursuing internship at the Fool themselves or have friends or family that are interested. So, really quickly, do you have any tips for people who are listening about how to be an intern at The Motley Fool?

Quinn: I would love to give some tips. So, no matter which program you're applying to intern for, whether the programming, the social media, the philanthropy teams, be sure to demonstrate your interest in stocks and investing, even if the particular role doesn't require experience in investing. And this could include mentioning how you've been investing yourself or how you've read this or that book to learn about investing or that you've played Motley Fool CAPS, which is their online stock picking game, or even just mentioning that you've been eager to start investing.

Also, I would say, don't hold back your personality. Part of the application process involves answering questions like, what's your favorite book and why, and what's your biggest regret. So, be sure to be authentic when you answer these questions, because The Motley Fool prides itself on its authenticity. And ultimately, keep in mind that The Motley Fool wants interns who can support their mission, which is to make the world smarter, richer and happier.

Flippen: Oh! That's wonderful. I remember when I applied for my internship. I'm a former Fool intern myself, one of the questions on the application was, if you can have one superpower, what would it be and why? And I remember I had been filling out my application, maybe at 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning, sitting in my dorm room very upset, because my roommate snored very loudly [laughs] and I could not sleep. And I remember semi-frustratedly writing down, I wish I had the superpower to sleep through anything. And that ended up being such a conversation topic when I did interview for The Motley Fool, because the person who was doing my initial round of interview, maybe it was Cheryl Palting here at The Motley Fool's Recruiting Team, sympathized with my feelings about sleeplessness a lot. So, stuff like that definitely humanizes the person, humanizes the application and I think generally makes you more of a well-rounded candidate, but great advice for everybody listening. And thank you, again, for humoring me for the first five minutes or so about your internship.

But let's get into the meat of today's show. This is an idea that you pitched to me, you wanted to have a deeper look at some of the companies and innovations that have been redefining technology during this global pandemic. I love this idea, because I'm a big believer that oftentimes we, as humans, do our best work when our backs are against the wall. And this pandemic has definitely forced many people and many companies' backs against many different walls.

So, I'd love to talk to you a little bit more, there are lots of technologies that have come about, about how to handle this new reality, what has your attention right now?

Quinn: So, you're right there. COVID-19 is calling into service a lot of nascent technology, and today I'll be discussing thermal imaging technology, which involves fever-detection cameras and contact tracing software. So, not only will these play a key role in safely reopening the economy, but keeping the economy open. We're beginning to realize that the virus will stick around for longer than we anticipated, and we're going to have to embrace this new normal. And toward the end of our conversation, Emily, I'll give listeners specific companies who are leading the way with this tech, companies which listeners might consider adding to their watchlists.

Flippen: That's great. Just earlier today, I was talking to a friend who works for the U.S. government, who has been back at work as an essential employee during this pandemic, and, you know, they let me know that their office, was just now deploying temperature checks when they're entering the building, to me, it felt maybe, [laughs] like, too little, too late, but where else are we seeing this technology, in particular, things like thermal cameras and tracing software, where is it being deployed?

Quinn: Yeah. As for thermal imaging cameras before the pandemic, they're now primarily used to detect the illness, the cameras have the ability to read people's heat signatures and the heat signatures of objects and they're mostly used for military and industrial purposes. But since the pandemic, thermal camera vendors have been marketing their products as a way to screen people for fevers, and these devices are being used for that purpose at grocery stores, hospitals, schools, airports, public transit hubs, and more. And there are thermal cameras that can actually check the temperature of people from a distance in mass, so that you don't have to stop people individually, and this is something that LAX and even airports in Hawaii are trying out, where I am from.

And as for schools, any discussion about their potential reopening includes a conversation about regular temperature checks. And public schools and universities nationwide will be relying on thermal cameras to open their doors this Fall. For example, Baldwin County in Alabama is installing 150 thermal cameras across all of its schools. And these cameras are also starting to be used in Amazon warehouses and Subway restaurants, and Carnival Cruise Lines said that, when they start sailing again, all passengers will have to be screened.

Flippen: It almost feels like a dystopian movie when I hear you describe all the places that these cameras are potentially being deployed.

Quinn: Oh, yeah. And actually, in order to use thermal cameras in the workplace or in public spaces, the FDA used to require that you'd get it testing and approval, but now the FDA is saying that it won't object to widespread use of thermal cameras. So, as we wait for a vaccine to be made, we can expect these to become a big part of our daily lives.

Flippen: Wow! That's crazy. You know, I have to add a little story here, because I really never had any experiences with thermal cameras until I took a trip in February. So, when the pandemic was hitting China, but hadn't quite become a worldwide issue, I decided I was going to go hike Mount Kilimanjaro. And there's probably better times to have decided to do that, but I remember I had flown through Switzerland. And I was wearing heavy jackets, lots of layers, and I arrived in Tanzania where it was 95 degrees. I got off the plane, and in order to prevent the spread of COVID, they did check my temperature, and I had a heightened temperature. And ultimately, they let me through because I was wearing five layers, and I think they realized, I was just a little sweaty. [laughs]

But ultimately, it does raise some questions about privacy and how this information is used, especially with the FDA changing their laws, or changing the regulations about where these cameras can be deployed openly. So, do you think there are actually any ethical issues with the spread of things like thermal imaging?

Quinn: Yeah, for sure. Thermal imaging cameras are less intrusive than traditional means of fever detecting, like, sticking a thermometer in someone's ear. But there are concerns over its privacy. Someone's temperature can rise for a variety of reasons, from stress, from overeating, from excitement, from pregnancy and conditions like menopause. And some people might not want to share this information with their employer. Also, civil liberties experts worry about these systems being used to oversee crowds, as people might not be aware or have consented to being watched.

Furthermore, with thermal cameras and contact tracing, you're gathering a lot of data about people, and it's important that that data is handled wisely. Spaces that use these technologies need to understand exactly how the data is being collected and used, and what security measures are in place to protect the information gathered.

Flippen: And that's all without even addressing the crux of the issue, which is, this isn't necessarily the most effective way of telling if somebody is sick, right, because you can be asymptomatic or, in my case, you can be just an overheated [laughs] sweaty person, and neither really gets at the crux of the issue, which is, are you contagious?

Quinn: Yeah, totally. I mean, there are accuracy issues with regard to thermal cameras, in that, they cannot detect asymptomatic cases. And with that they might inspire a false confidence in the workplace. And nor do these cameras explicitly detect coronavirus. If it reads a fever in someone, that person would still need to get tested for the virus and confirm that they have it in that way.

Flippen: That's very true, but regardless of, I guess, these smaller concerns, it does seem like imaging, and not just imaging, but really a lot of different technology is being capitalized on anything that we can do to potentially limit the spread of COVID, it looks like, companies are trying to do.

So, maybe let's move on to the fun stuff here. You, kind of, teased it up at the beginning of this episode that you had a couple of companies that you were looking at, that were making inroads into COVID technology. What companies do you think are leading the way?

Quinn: There's a company called FLIR Systems (NASDAQ: FLIR), ticker symbol FLIR. And their cameras are being used by the Pentagon building, the Marine Corps, General Motors and airports and schools, including the Alabama School District I mentioned earlier. The unique thing about FLIR is that they are vertically integrated, which means, they control every step of the supply chain, from manufacturing the product to distributing and selling the products. And this vertical integration allows FLIR to better protect their intellectual property, and it allows them to produce cameras in the most time- and cost-effective way.

And since COVID-19, the company has seen its demand skyrocket so much so that they're experiencing manufacturing and capacity issues and they're struggling to meet the demand. They're actually deviating slightly from their vertical integration and partnering with their client General Motors to leverage their supply chain.

And about this backlog of orders, it's both a good thing and a bad thing. Of course, it's good that their products are in high demand and you'd certainly prefer constraints in supply to constraints in demand, but you don't want clients to turn to alternative vendors who might have less of a wait or you don't want clients to try to haggle for discounts on the products.

Flippen: And it's great for, you said, FLIR Systems?

Quinn: Correct, yeah.

Flippen: I never know how to pronounce. [laughs]

Quinn: It's pronounced FLIR Systems and it stands for Forward Looking Infrared. An infrared light is the long wavelength that is beyond what the eye can perceive.

Flippen: Interesting. Yeah, I mean, it sounds great for [laughs] FLIR Systems and their infrared technology, but it does leave me scratching my head a little bit. I have to wonder, does this technology stay relevant if and when a vaccine is widely released? We had news earlier today that Moderna (NASDAQ: MRNA) had a really strong Phase I test for a vaccine. So, does that still stay relevant in the future?

Quinn: It's a good question. Public health officials are expecting that temperature scanning will become a staple of life, like, metal detectors and security pat downs, but that's until we get a reliable vaccine. And businesses might not need them forever. But coronavirus is notoriously hard to treat, the common cold is a form of coronavirus. And so, there's no telling how long we'll rely on this technology to control the spread of the virus.

Flippen: Yeah, that's a really good point. And I mentioned Moderna at the beginning, and I don't want to lead on some false hope for anybody who's listening that, where it's good results but it was out of 45 people in a Phase I test. So, there is still very much a long road ahead of Moderna, and a lot of these other companies that are looking to make COVID vaccines. So, it does seem like there's some argument to be made that for, at least the remainder of 2020 and likely into 2021, things like thermal imaging will truly be here to stay.

Quinn: Yeah. And I will note too that FLIR's thermal cameras have uses beyond containing the virus, they will actually play an important part in the autonomous vehicle revolution, because their sensors have been used in military vehicles for 360-degree obstacle detection. And FLIR has recently partnered with an automation company Foresight Autonomous Holdings, ticker symbol, FRSX. And they'll use FLIR's thermal sensors for hazard detection in assisted driver and driverless cars.

Flippen: So, I just got a message from Dan Kline, who is listening to us tape this episode live, who says that he still believes that things like cruise lines and theme parks will continue to use thermal imaging, at a minimum, moving forward even after this vaccine. I really could see this as a permanent change in the way that we live. And it does seem to be a little bit risk mitigating that FLIR does have thermal cameras that are useful for things beyond global pandemics, as you mentioned, getting used into things like autonomous vehicles does diversify their value proposition a little bit.

And I know you said that it's not just companies that are looking to get into creation of products for the pandemic, but it's actually companies that are innovating within their existing technology. So, what companies are making the most out of this situation, just using their current product line?

Quinn: One company would be Salesforce (NYSE: CRM), ticker symbol CRM. And they've utilized their CRM tools, or their Customer Relationship Management tools, or their contact tracing software, which they call And their system involves apps and call centers to keep track of and inform people, who might have been exposed to the virus in their workplace, so that those people know to self-quarantine.

There are also, built into their system, employee wellness assessments and an emergency resource management app that helps health industries allocate public and private sector resources across healthcare facilities. And Salesforce's services are actually being used in some capacity by more than 30 different states, according to their CEO, Marc Benioff. In fact, New York City Mayor, Bill de Blasio announced in May that they're actually partnering with Salesforce to develop New York City's contact tracing program.

And I do have a quote from Salesforce's CEO, Marc Benioff. He told CNBC's Jim Cramer that "This is something that every company is going to need, who wants to have a great relationship with their employees and their customers. This is the beginning of a journey and there's no finish-line when it comes down to battling this virus." So, Benioff believes that will be a critical part of getting to the next phases of reopening.

Flippen: Betting against Marc Benioff has not done investors well historically. So, I'm not willing to take the counter side of that bet. I do think it's really interesting that Benioff makes a statement that battling this virus is never going to be done. Conceptually, I think there's an argument to be made that the way that we frame up even just technology and our lives may be permanently changed by this once-in-a-century global pandemic. So, there's a lot of what he says that seems extreme on the face value, but actually may resonate with people more than initially expected. This is, Salesforce, FLIR Systems, they are both great examples of companies that, when we started off the show, I mentioned have innovated, but innovated, in particular, because their backs were against the wall.

Meilin, I want to thank you so much for bringing this concept here at Industry Focus today. It will be really interesting to see what future innovations come out, not just from FLIR, and not just from Salesforce, but from all the companies and the people whose lives have been changed by this global pandemic. We are certainly still, I would say, in the second or third inning of what is probably going to be a nine-inning game here at this pandemic. So, things will rapidly change, but until then, thank you so much for being willing to join me again.

I know, as an intern, doing things, like podcasts, you know, doing Industry Focus, and in fact, taping this in front of a live audience, as we are doing right now, are things that can be extremely intimidating. So, you always handle yourself really well, I'm really excited to see what you do, not only with the remainder of your internship, but also, when you go back to school, [laughs] hopefully, make it back into Hawaii at some point in the future, but until then, Meilin, thank you so much for joining.

Quinn: I really appreciate it, Emily. I really enjoyed sharing my findings and my research with you and our listeners.

Flippen: Listeners, that does it for this episode of Industry Focus. If you have any questions, you can always reach us at or tweet us @MFIndustryFocus.

As always, people on the program may own companies discussed on the show, and The Motley Fool may have formal recommendations for or against any stocks mentioned, so don't buy or sell anything based solely on what you hear.

Thanks to Tim Sparks for his work behind the screen today. For Meilin Quinn, I'm Emily Flippen, thanks for listening, and Fool on!

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Emily Flippen has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon and The Motley Fool recommends Carnival and FLIR Systems and recommends the following options: short January 2022 $1940 calls on Amazon and long January 2022 $1920 calls on Amazon. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.


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