How A Touch Manufacturer Is Making Screen Use Safe, When Interactive Has Grown Scary
April 13, 2020 by Dave Haynes
As you might expect, there is a fair amount of trepidation out there about using touchscreens these days, and it presents a challenge for digital signage and interactive tech vendors like TSItouch.
I asked Gary Mundrake, the Pennsylvania company’s president, for TSItouch’s perspective on having a customer engagement solution that people, right or wrong, may be scared to engage. He provided some great, really insightful feedback.
“Path one – the much-advertised anti-microbial coatings that are getting a ton of press right now. We received samples of one last fall. When we sent it out for independent lab testing, the net result was it does nothing at all.”
“A second product that has received lots of press in England holds some promise, but is highly caustic until applied. None of our U.S.-based glass finishers would touch it. Since it has to be baked into the glass, it has to be applied by a glass-tempering finisher. It is not something that can be done in house.”
“And finally, the anti-microbial films out there. We have samples in-house that can be applied to glass much like any other film. We were pretty hot on the film path up until last week.”
“After reading and re-reading the various suppliers’ own test results, including ones we believed to be legitimate, the obvious finally dawned on me. Even when they work as advertised, what they do is kill bacteria over a 24-hour period. That is great if you have a use-case where the touch is only used once every 24 hours.”
“So … all of these anti-microbial films and coatings are great at killing yesterday’s germs, but no help with today’s germs.”
“Since we have taken that option off the table for now, what’s next?”
“Short-term, we have developed a very low cost hand sanitizer dispenser mount that can be retrofitted to any of our units already deployed. We are working to source 10,000 units of hand sanitizer to pair up with the mounts.”
“We expect to have this available and shipping at scale in 6-8 weeks. We will offer 500 – 1,000 units at no charge to existing customers to use as back fits.”
“Our thinking is that like it or not, hand sanitizers are here to stay. The public knows and trusts them. Equipping our touch screens will allow users a degree of comfort. They can use the hand sanitizer prior to and/or after contact with a screen.”
“They can also just use the sanitizer, whether or not they need to use a touch screen. Pretty much every retail space has some type of dispenser or wipe station at this point. They vary widely in degree of aesthetics and apparent cleanliness, so we think having a fixed dispenser is the way to go now.”
I asked about UV light, given there are products out there claiming to kills viruses just using ultra-filet light.
“Long-term, that’s possibly a solution. Short-term, there are too many unknowns, like how effective are they in a public environment. Also, how fast do they actually work? What, if any, health impact on users is there? We haven’t got enough information yet.”
“Additionally, there would be hurdles to get over like back-fitting and available power. It sounds like a simple issue, but power in public spaces is an issue. Adding one more AC outlet is simple in theory, but painful in practice. Beyond that, we’re not sure if people will trust it, or accept the aesthetic. “
“At this point I’m going to side with Frank Olea, the president of Olea Kiosks. He has done a few public posts that boil down to this: ‘Would you rather talk to a person that may or may not be infected, or use a touch screen?'”
“My thinking is that if you can use a hand sanitizer during a contact event, the public will be more comfortable than approaching another person for information.”
“People will not be giving up touch screen interfaces anytime soon. The question is can we provide a comfort level that allows their use in public?”
“Imagine taking out all the airport ticketing, check-in, customers, way-finding, ordering, and other kiosks, and replacing them with lines of people waiting to get to a counter to talk to another person. I don’t see that happening.”
“A clean touch sounds a lot nicer then going back to standing in lines to get close to a person whose job is to be close to 100s of other people, all day.
“So, yes, absolutely, we’re looking at the impact and mitigation of CV19 on touch,” concludes Mundrake. “CV19 will get controlled, the world will continue to touch.”
My take – I hadn’t thought in terms of the simplicity of a bolt-on hand sanitizer dispenser, but given that is, or should be, our new routine when out doing anything (like groceries), that’s what I’d be happy with. When I tap in my pin code for a debit or credit card at a store, I am immediately then looking for sanitizer at the checkout, and I suspect most people are the same.
The wild-cards, of course, are the venue operators ensuring the supply of sanitizer is not exhausted, and FINDING supplies at the moment – though I assume manufacturers (existing and new) will gradually catch up with the super-spike in demand from Q1.
10+ plus years ago I recall a great demo by Toshiba at CES – it was for a smart TV with a camera mounted on the top which was not only used for video conferencing, but as a gesture UI. In the demo one could switch inputs, raise and lower volume, change channels, and navigate different types of media content from multiple sources. Since then I’ve seen many other gesture UI technologies of varying stability and commercial scaleability. Given the low cost of high resolution image sensors, and recent advances made by companies like Google (on the Pixelphone) and Ultraleap (fka Leap Motion), there is a great opportunity for ‘touchless’ touch displays to be the next big feature in the age of C-19.