The coronavirus pandemic is shaping a new world. The consequences may be long-lasting but perhaps not all for the worse.

Tech companies are already responding to the demand for a more sanitary world with touchlesstech.

Will there be a sustained consumer desire for inherently hygienic tech in the long term or is it just pandemic paranoia? Let’s discuss.

Going touchless for the sake of hygiene

Touchless technology is not a new thing.

Some forms of touchless sensing are already well established such as “tap” contactless payment, touchless bathroom hand dryers, Apple’s Face ID, and Google Home’s voice recognition. Many major players continue to innovate gesture control with AR/VR and making cars “connected” turning them into “ virtual chauffeurs.”

The market for touchless tech has been on the rise for years and is projected to grow from USD 6.8 billion in 2020 to USD 15.3 billion by 2025 (in a 2019 study). What has been driving the market?

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Market Research Futurereported that “increasing hygiene concerns are contributing substantially to the growth of [the] touchless sensing market” as well as improved user experience. Similarly, Grand View Researchfound that “growing demand for contact-free sensing as well as hygiene issues is expected to drive the [touchless sensing] market.”

At the same time, Markets and Markets identified several barriers: “the major restraint for the market is higher switchover costs coupled with user resistance.”

While touchless tech has had a lot of potential for growth, these reports were compiled before the world plunged into a pandemic causing many economies to take a turn for the worse. With this economic downturn, will consumers see contactless gesture control as an unnecessary luxury?

My prediction is this. As we see a growing public conscience for sanitation, previous user resistance to touchless tech will also decrease. It may no longer be perceived as a luxury but a necessity in our new reality. As consumer demand for touchless appliances and interfaces increase, we may see a rise in business adoption. The old barriers to touchless sensing and gesture control might be diminished and the chasm to new touchless tech markets might have just gotten smaller because of the pandemic. Marketwatch makes a similar prediction that “consumers will make contactless experiences and sanitizing a part of daily life.”

Although the future is uncertain, we can use previous outbreaks as a model for the future.

Hong Kong did it, why not us?

Although recent reports found that North America is the dominant market for touchless sensing tech in the world, it’s behind places like Hong Kong which, in part due to the SARS epidemic in 2003, made big public health changes including standardizing automatic doors and contactless payment methods.

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In the 19th century, handwashing among doctors was a controversial idea. We’re capable of learning hygiene lessons from the past.

Now it looks like North America has the demand to make a societal shift towards more sanitary hospitals, airports, hotels, offices, restaurants, grocery stores, check-in kiosks and personal homes which are long overdue for a sanitary check.

We’re already seeing a response from businesses around the world.

Businesses are meeting the demand for touchless tech

As the first country after China to be hit by the coronavirus, Japan is soaring ahead with touchless tech.

On April 1st, Fujitec launched what it calls “elevators of enhanced public hygiene,” which offers a contactless panel for selecting your floor, anti-bacterial buttons in the elevator and a congestion indicator to encourage social distancing. It’s received interest from not only hospitals and food manufacturers but also general office buildings.

Kohler, a large American manufacturing company for household appliances, reported a surge in sales of touchless faucets and toilets to residential customers in March 2020, 8 times more than the year previous.

More shockingly, some Americans are defying their age-old resistance to the bidet which is otherwise commonplace around the world. Jason Ojalvo, the CEO of Tushy, a bidet company said that last month bidet sales were “10 times what normal sales are. A few days later it peaked at a million-dollar sales per day.” This is likely in no small part due to the panic hoarding of toilet paper.

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graphic of Fujitec’s touchless floor selection panel as part of it’s “elevators of enhanced hygiene.

Proxy, a Silicon Valley company, developed a contactless ID app to replace fobs and keys.

The CEO and co-founder, Denis Mars is anticipating the market shift commenting that “the biggest conversation was all about security. Now it is about how to maintain a hygienic environment.”

Similarly, Sonarax Technologies, an Israel based ultrasonic connectivity company launched their app this month that turns your phone into a ‘digital assistant’ for the pandemic. It’s “designed as an immediate solution to help prevent COVID-19 transmission through shared surfaces.” Sonarax is intended for hospitals, residential buildings, factories, and hotels.

A straightforward application of touchless tech is facial recognition biometrics. The Japanese multinational company NEC is using facial recognition in security checkpoints in its offices. The powerful AI behind it can identify you even if you’re wearing a face mask.

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The Japanese company NEC has developed a facial recognition checkpoint that can identify you even if you’re wearing a face mask. This is key to functional security in the midst of a global pandemic. Photo from NEC.

A worldwide pandemic will require a worldwide response. All of these efforts by companies will need to be met by the willingness of consumers. It could be that COVID-19 gives consumers even more reasons to want touchless tech than before, for the sake of hygiene.

The future may be much more hygienic and everyone will play a role — including TTT.

TTT’s touchless tech: Amada AI

In an increasingly hygiene conscious public, identifying yourself with facial recognition is a little more appealing than using a fingerprint scanner, pin pad or fob — it’s touchless.

Amanda AI is TTT’s solution for event check-in built on facial recognition technology. Attendees enjoy a more convenient, sanitary check-in experience. We’re always thinking of new ways to innovate the experience and one possibility is to make Amanda AI completely touchless.

Checking in with Amanda AI

How does it work? After opt-ing in, conference attendees send us a photo in advance. When they arrive at the event, they go to the sign-in booth where a tablet scans their face and identifies them. Finally, they press a button for confirmation and they receive their name card. For more details on the intrinsically ethical design of Amanda AI take a look at this article by David Hobbs, TTT’s VP of Operations.

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Event attendees check-in using Amanda AI. Amanda AI could be completely touchless with gesture sensing such as smile-to-confirm if it isn’t impractical to users.

We want to make the experience as enjoyable as possible for users, that’s why we’re thinking about hygienic design on that last step — touching the screen.

There are several ways we could innovate this last step to be more sanitary including smile-to-confirm where the tablet confirms a match by detecting a smile. Other possible gestures include a head nod, a head shake or a hand motion. Voice control is also an option but it likely wouldn’t work as well in a noisy setting like an event.

Amanda AI ‘wow’s attendees with a seamless, personalized check-in experience. If it isn’t too impractical for the user, smile-to-confirm could be a welcomed addition to the whole touchless experience.

This completely touchless check-in experience is also applicable in airports, shared workspaces, grocery stores, hotels and any office requiring an appointment.

Closing remarks

Will the demand for touchless tech extend beyond the pandemic or is it just pandemic paranoia? As we saw in Hong Kong after the 2003 SARS outbreak, pandemics do have long term effects on social habits and expectations for hygiene.

It looks like touchless sensing interfaces, gesture control apps, and facial recognition biometrics will continue to be a part of a larger social shift to more sanitary hospitals, offices, airports and homes.

Once people get used to using their new bidet, they might not want to go back.