The best aspect of my job as a journalist covering science and technology is the opportunity to talk with smart, passionate people on a daily basis. Doing so never fails to give me optimism for the future. Humanity will face some steep challenges in the years ahead, but I’m confident in our ability to figure out ways to overcome them.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a case in point. Through Dec. 17, the virus had claimed more than 1.6 million lives worldwide, including 315,641 Americans. While most of us can only despair at those numbers, engineers around the world are devising innovative ways to solve the problem.

Some of those innovations were recognized last month by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). The association presented its annual Emerging Technology Awards to five innovative technologies designed to combat the pandemic.

They winners are:

Advanced Kiosks’ entry-point kiosk, which measures temperatures and checks for mask compliance before allowing people to enter a building. By automating health screening at the portals of buildings, these kiosks may cut down on virus transmission.

Medistar Corp.’s heated nickel foam air filter, which kills coronavirus and other airborne pathogens. The HVAC filter can be installed in existing residential or commercial ventilation systems.

Prusa Research’s fully open-source design for a face shield that can be quickly 3D-printed and delivered to frontline workers.

Starship Technologies’ autonomous robot, which delivers meals, groceries and other parcels within a three-mile radius. By making deliveries without person-to-person contact, the robot lowers the odds of disease transmission.

UVD Robots’ autonomous disinfecting robot system equipped with UV-C light; The self-guided system can eliminate 99.9 percent of all microbes from the surfaces of a room.

“The COVID-19 pandemic derailed the best-laid plans. And yet, the response from the engineering community has been remarkable,” says ASME executive director Tom Costabile. “All of us at ASME celebrate engineers everywhere who have applied their heads and their hearts to meet real human needs this year.”

Hear, hear!