The way we communicate with the world continues to change. Touch-based interfaces grew exponentially from 2008 to 2019. All this changed, however, with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
Suddenly, the demand for touchless technology skyrocketed across all industries as safety considerations forced companies to rethink customer and employee interactions.
Although touchless technology has been around for decades – we're all familiar with automatic doors, toilets, faucets, and hand dryers – the demand for it has increased dramatically since the start of the pandemic and is likely to continue. In fact, the global touchless sensing market is expected to reach $18 billion by 2023.
What is Touchless Technology?
Touchless technology involves any device that can be used or operated without the need for physical touch. Although the primary benefit of touchless technology is improved health, its appeal is not limited to hygiene and safety. It can also improve customer engagement and streamline processes, to name a few.
The History of Touchless Technology
Americans have long been enamored by touchless technology, dating back to the 19th century when the first miniature remote-control boat was invented. A few decades later, entrepreneurs started discovering remote-control solutions that could ease daily chores, which led to the creation of the automatic garage door opener. Over time, touchless technology has become more sophisticated and has weaved its way into every aspect of American life – from the home to retail stores and the workplace.
Here are some notable events in the development process of touchless technology:
- Automatic doors in stores and workplaces
- Lights that go on only when someone enters a specific area
- Sinks, soap, and paper towel dispensers that start when they sense hands nearby
- The development of sensor-based gesture recognition interfaces used in video games
- Use of near-field communication (NFC) technology for contactless credit/debit cards
- Google's launch of a custom mobile payment system for Android devices
Today's Touchless Technology
Today, we interact with touchless technology several times a day -- walking through an automated door or asking Siri to set the timer for us. Here are some of the most popular forms of touchless technology:
- RFID/NFC: The most common technologies enabling touchless interfaces are radio-frequency identification (RFID) and NFC. Both rely on radio-frequency signals to exchange data between devices.
- Gesture recognition: Another common form of touchless technology is gesture recognition. Users can make simple gestures to control or interact with devices without physically touching them.
- Touchless sensing: Touchless sensing can detect the presence or motion of a person under a sensor. Like gesture recognition, touchless sensing has become rather commonplace.
- Voice activation: Voice recognition software analyzes sounds and performs tasks based on the information that is given to it via a voice (e.g., Apple's Siri, Google's Home, or Amazon's Alexa).
- Bluetooth: This technology operates when a Bluetooth low-energy signal with an encrypted identifier is picked up by a reader, connecting a mobile app with an existing sensor and system.
- QR codes/barcodes: On-demand mobile quick response (QR) codes provide instant access to information. A QR code is a version of a barcode, an open-source technology that is easy for mobile apps to scan. QR codes can direct users to download a mobile app or visit a website.
- Biometric authentication: Biometrics measure the physical characteristics (e.g., face or palm) of a person to verify identity.
Turning to Touchless Technology During the Pandemic
COVID-19 has created a massive surge in the demand for touchless technology. Early in the pandemic, people were advised to touch as little as possible. All industries were required to make changes before staff and customers could return.
One of the most notable upgrades was to reduce points of contact between human hands and equipment, surfaces, handles, and other people. Nearly every industry had to make significant changes to their business operations and adopt new technologies to ensure as little physical contact as possible.
Benefits of Touchless Technology
Obviously, the health and well-being of individuals are enhanced by reducing the amount of contact with contaminated surfaces. However, touchless technology provides additional benefits.
- Energy savings: Touchless technology is more energy efficient because it shuts off automatically rather than waiting for human intervention, which reduces energy waste and costs.
- Productivity and profits: By reducing the likelihood of employee illness and downtime, touchless technology helps ensure productivity is maintained and profits can be generated – even during a pandemic!
- Reduced costs: Businesses can use simple, manual strategies, such as sanitary levers, to protect employees from contaminated surfaces. Any costs accrued from implementing touchless technology are balanced by the reduced risk of health-related costs and fines.
- Aesthetic appeal: Touchless technology devices come in a range of stylish and discreet designs that can enhance the visual appeal of a space.
- Enhanced customer experience: Touchless technology can work to enable or enhance a streamlined, self-directed, and more satisfying customer experience – one with convenience at its core.
Ways to Implement Touchless Technology Across Industries
Touchless solutions are now prevalent in nearly every industry, including our homes. Here's how various sectors are using this innovative technology:
In Retail Stores
During the pandemic, BOPIS (buy online, pickup in-store) service and contactless delivery made it possible for consumers to continue patronizing their favorite retailers with minimal physical interaction.
Apps like Scan-and-Go and Apple Pay allow shoppers to scan items on store shelves and pay for them using their smartphones. In addition, retailers relied upon people counters to track the number of customers in a store at any time. Not only did this ensure that they were meeting local and state regulations regarding maximum capacity, but they also have been found to improve staffing decisions and promote higher conversion rates.
Touchless technology is especially vital in a healthcare setting. To help alleviate people's anxiety, healthcare facilities have started eliminating touchpoints and implementing voice recognition or activation technology. Other technologies starting to appear in the healthcare industry include touchless check-in for hospitals, emergency rooms, and clinics; touchless kiosks; and touchless displays that provide entertainment without having to touch an object (e.g., TV remote).
In Public Spaces
Touchless technology can streamline public buildings and stadiums' security and access control and enhance digital signage in theaters, hotel lobbies, and libraries. QR codes can be used for contactless delivery, intelligent lockers, touchless menu apps, and touchless feedback forms. Facial recognition software can integrate with automated gates to quickly check the identification of workers and visitors to government facilities, while self-service kiosks with speech recognition can allow individuals to access public services while eliminating the need for multiple users to share the same touchscreen.
Examples of Touchless Technology from Ombori
Several companies are leading the way in the research and development of touchless technology, including Swedish-based Ombori.
Ombori Simplifies Touchless Booking and Check-in
Ombori offers a suite of products that make touchless booking and check-in a breeze. Both Omni Visit and Appointment Booking allow people to schedule an appointment with a hairstylist, family physician, or other service provider via their mobile device. They can view available time slots, cancel or change an appointment, contact the provider, submit payment, and even leave feedback online – no physical contact is required.
In addition, people no longer have to stand in line while waiting for service. They can use Ombori Queue Management to join a virtual queue, which allows them to wait anywhere, away from other customers. When it's time to check-in, all they need to do is retrieve a QR code on their phone, which can be scanned electronically – again, no physical contact is necessary.
Ombori Entices Customers with Touchless Shopping
Other Ombori products help create a touchless shopping experience. Product Designer, for example, allows consumers to self-serve when looking for product information. They can use their mobile phone to view an entire range of products, including all models and configurations. Product Designer also integrates nicely with Self-Checkout, which allows customers to make purchases without the anxiety of standing in line.
Retailers can further enhance the shopping experience by implementing Ombori Customer Remote. This technology allows customers to interact without touching digital signage and access the precise information they want about a product. It can be placed in a store window for operation outside the space. Combined, these Ombori solutions create a complete self-serve environment for customers who prefer a touchless shopping experience.
Insights into the Future of Touchless Technologies
While it's difficult to predict the future and anticipate what's coming next, it's clear that touchless technology will be part of that future. According to studies, 51% of Americans say their preference for touchless technology has increased amid COVID-19, and 40% hold a negative view of businesses that do not adopt it. The combined benefits of improved safety and convenience mean touchless solutions will become a standard offering across all industries.