Beating the Cost Accumulation Factor in Touchless conversions

Touchless conversions are all the rage. But is it possible to keep the public safe without breaking the bank?

By Stef Prioreschi

The need for electronic interfaces between humans and machines has been steadily increasing for several decades, and the development of the associated technology has seen logarithmic advancements over the same period. Interface devices are here to stay, for at least as long as computers cannot reliably read human thoughts remotely.

The Touch Screen Modules Market Report recently published by Syndicate Market Research makes for interesting reading regarding the growth and expansion of the Touch Screen Modules Market. While it goes into granular detail regarding usage and growth by module type, size, application, and market – the trend it highlights is clear: Touchscreens are here to stay for the foreseeable future and if their projections are anything to go by, we will continue to see these screens deployed across a broader base of applications in both private and public spaces.

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We found the conclusions pertaining to public applications of touchscreens of particular interest. They point to a rapid increase in the deployment of self-service solutions across a wide variety of sectors from travel to accommodation, to quick service restaurants and retail as businesses pursue the increased efficiency and reduction in staffing costs that these technologies enable. What the report does not look at in detail, is the growing awareness of the risks that these technologies present pertaining to the spread of harmful pathogens. While this awareness has steadily been growing below the surface – with research done by the London Metropolitan University dating as far back as 2018 pointing to growing concerns about the hygiene of these technologies – the current pandemic has escalated both awareness and the prevalence of these concerns.

“Sense IT offers a low-cost and high-gain implementation that is available to a broad range of operations where a user is required to make an electronic selection. It provides high efficacy at a reasonable cost and quick turnaround.”

There are still some who feel that this aversion is nothing more than paranoia, yet these perspectives are challenged directly by confirmed high-spread incidents pertaining to public technologies. The most widely reported incident is that of a single asymptomatic traveler in China that infected as many as 71 people with COVID-19 via the control panel of the elevator in her apartment building, as reported by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is fair to say that instances such as these have had a powerful impact on how members of the public view and interact with public technology. Numerous surveys have been done in the wake of the pandemic to try and gauge to what extent it has impacted our perspectives of these touch points. Outcomes unanimously point to the fact that members of the public have grown increasingly weary of these touch points.

One such survey, conducted by experience design specialists Foolproof found that 8 out of 10 people said that they now interact differently with public tech points of touch. 5 out of 10 said that they immediately clean their hands after using these surfaces, either by washing or using sanitizer. Foolproof concluded We’re not on the cusp of an entirely touchless future but we are seeing an early aversion to touch, or a desire for less touch where possible. Products and services will have to change to accommodate this irrespective of the fidelity of these changes.”

In the context of high investment in self-service technologies coupled with public skepticism regarding the hygiene and safety of these technologies manufacturers, owners and facility managers have been frantically searching for viable alternatives. The solutions tendered include smartphone integration, voice operation or even the use of foot pedals as alternatives. These alternatives have proved clunky, expensive, and unintuitive – requiring the end user to learn a new mode of interaction.

Given these challenges, the integration of optical sensor technology into existing hardware configurations has proved to be an elegant, effective, and cost effective alternative – making it by far the most attractive solution. Apart from the technical superiority of this solution the integration of optical sensors into existing hardware offers the owners and operators of outlets and public spaces that incorporate public touch technologies answers to their greatest financial challenges in this regard, namely the concerns related to the redundancy of existing hardware and the cost of replacing it with new contactless devices. 

The solutions offered by Sense IT provides owners and operators an add-on solution, which converts existing hardware to a Touchless operation. Once integrated into existing electronic interfaces the Sense IT modules allow accurate sensing of selections being made by the user and relates that to the existing ticketing or ordering system, without the user having to physically touch the screen surface. In this way the existing hardware and software is retained and there is the advantage that the user does not need to learn to operate a new device, but instead continues with the familiar sequence of movements and selections associated with that device

One practical example of this occurs when a person enters an elevator and automatically reaches for the buttons to select a floor. The Sense IT Device, installed in parallel to the cart operating input panel, allows the user to make a selection using the existing button panel without actually touching it, thereby fulfilling the Touchless requirement with minimal adjustment of the current button panel and user experience. Similarly, a touchscreen ticketing system will continue to operate as it currently does once a Sense IT Device has been installed by allowing the user the option of making a selection without touching the screen. This allows for highly complex applications to be integrated cost-effectively into the Touchless environment

A more complex example is found in the Quick Service Restaurant space. These are public spaces that operate efficiently due to the research and development done by the operations division of the said corporation, and the subsequent implementation of menu-specific applications run on custom tablets and other touchscreen devices. To make any operational changes to this ordering system would require policy changes at high levels within the corporation, whereas a simple add-on device makes it possible for the current system to continue operating in the way that it has been developed to maximize returns. In this sort of environment requiring users to change the way they are accustomed to interacting with an application could translate into losses across the board, from orders having a longer turnaround to wastage in stock and packaging, not to mention loyalty fluctuations as customers consider other options.

It can be argued that one of the most expensive changes a corporation can make is to suddenly modify how customers interact with its offerings, probably more so than a sudden change the branding of the product. The user interaction becomes a critical thread that must be maintained

With an accessory fitment it is possible to circumvent all these likely losses, and in addition this can be achieved without substituting the existing systems or the hardware that have been established to run them. It is a low-cost and high-gain implementation that is available to a broad range of operations where a user is required to make an electronic selection, and it has the lowest implementation period and cost per unit. In the current environment speed of implementation is likely the single most important factor, which puts the Sense IT system in a league of its own – the first add-on interface for human to machine Touchless interaction.

Stef Prioreschi is the Head of Design at Sense IT TouchlessTech Solutions.