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The case for touchless technology

Tim D’Ath, Solutions Architect at O2, discusses the case for touchless technology in everyday life.

I recently visited a popular seaside location with my wife.  When we arrived, I paid for parking using a mobile app.  I bought a bag of fresh doughnuts which I paid for using contactless. We walked along the sea front and popped into some of the local shops, all the time sanitising our hands using one of the many automatic dispensers deployed around the area.

Towards the end of the day, we headed off to a hotel which I had booked. The hotel entrance doors opened automatically for us and a few minutes later I had collected our electronic room cards that gave us access to both the hotel lifts and our room. I had already prepaid for our evening meal as part of our hotel stay and reserved a table for 7pm, all through the hotel website. I also logged our arrival at the restaurant on the new NHS COVID-19 app. At the end of the evening, I paid for our extras at a contactless terminal.

Like many of the connected devices that we collectively refer to as the Internet of Things (IoT), the services I’ve described are all forms of ‘touchless technology’.

Many of us use a form of touchless technology every day, whether we are ordering food, booking e-tickets, banking, booking taxis, and so on.  Some forms have been around for many years now (take automatic doors, for example), but the advent of COVID-19 has made such technology play a vital role in preventing the spread of the virus in public areas.

Some of these touchless technologies were developed purely for public convenience, at a time when touching surfaces was not considered a significant risk.  Take for example ATMs, travel ticket terminals, supermarket express checkouts, Amazon lockers, all of which would be considered high-touch surface areas used by the general public.

Until a vaccine is produced, a lot of people will feel uneasy using public touch-screen terminals, unless they have been sanitised after every customer use (which isn’t practical in most cases).  Clearly, what is needed is a way of interacting with public terminals – but without physically touching any surfaces.

It may be a few years before such technology is universally available throughout public areas.  However, the technology being developed by mobile phone manufacturers could provide the solution to this problem.  Here are some examples:

Google developed ‘gesture’ controls on their Pixel 4 smartphone range, which allows users to interact with their phones without physically touching them.  Perhaps the same idea could be extended and incorporated for use within public terminals?

Siri by Apple was the first digital voice assistant to be standard on a smartphone when the iPhone 4s was released in October 2011. Voice-assistants installed in hotel rooms could control air conditioning, TV and lighting for staying guests.

The Just Eat mobile app service will remember what you have ordered in the past, and allow you to re-order the same items again. A solution that recognises you, and what you are most likely to purchase, would be both convenient and time saving for everything from booking tickets to ordering take-aways.

The mobile smartphone is already playing a pivotal role in bringing touchless technologies to market that help to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Maybe in the future we will see greater integration with public terminals using our smartphones, perhaps with Near Field Communication (NFC) technology being used to provide user preferences, as well as for payment services.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas, so connect with me on LinkedIn.

Share your thoughts with #O2opinions.


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