Take a look around and it is easy to see that touch screens have become ubiquitous. It is evident throughout industrial spaces, smart devices, information kiosks – touch has gone from novelty to becoming the predominate means of accessing content throughout the digital world. However, as COVID-19 became our present reality, the notion of touching things becomes antithesis to this ubiquity – creating an interesting paradigm when everything around us is touch based.
“For us, it’s a matter of how to make touch interactions safe because if you start with the premise that they are ubiquitous you can get rid of them -- we would all struggle,” says Gene Halsey, general manager at Holland, Mich.-based TES America. “Hopefully, the vaccine rollout will fade away the danger associated with the ongoing pandemic, but that doesn't stop e-coli or other microbes from collecting on the screen. Plus, we have no idea when the next pandemic will hit.”
Understandably, as one of the world’s largest producers of touch displays, TES has been looking at a number of different options to make touch environments safer for the user. One option is to essentially pull the interaction off the screen. "We've come out with a technology that basically brings that interaction slightly off the surface, so the user can get within a couple of centimeters of the screen and fully interact providing basic functionality without touching a surface," he says.TES has also experimented with the concept of displaying QR codes on the screen such as a wayfinding kiosk. However, rather than leveraging the QR code to open a webpage, the idea is to allow users to still manipulate and move the cursor around – but doing so using their own device rather than physically interacting with a large screen that 10,000 people may have touched.
“It's up to us as an industry to make those touch experiences as safe as possible, and brings about a lot of ideas,” he says. “For instance, is it feasible to put an antiviral or antimicrobial coating on the screen? Or can we add agents to the surface of the screen that are going to be destructive to germs and viruses to destroy these microbes with a coating?”
Regardless of the approach, there are a couple of challenges to improving the touch landscape. “The industrial electronics market is historically slow. They like to be very judicious about their capital spending on IT infrastructure,” he says. “When they deploy an IT infrastructure, they tend to keep it for anywhere from five to 10 plus years. Telling them that an innovative technology exists to make something safer, but it's going to cost them dollars, there's a significant pushback whether its incremental spending to their existing investment or new spending.”
According to Halsey, government intervention may be the driver, but at this point there have not been any incentives or mandates. Those offering self-directed experiences could also surface as champions – ushering in standards and new levels of cost efficiency for safe touch technology.
“For instance, fast food and quick serve restaurants have embraced self-ordering as a way to speed the flow, reduce labor, increase accuracy and enable the ticket upsell,” he says. “McDonald's will say there's anywhere from a 20 to 35% uptick on an average receipt of a self-order kiosk versus an order at the counter.”