Gary Mundrake, the CEO of TSItouch, has been a very active voice in recent weeks in the discussion around the safe use of technology in the midst of a pandemic.
The quick reaction, when the situation grew serious and lockdowns started, was that devices that actively asked and needed to be touched, to be useful, were going to be avoided. So there was cause to openly wonder what that meant for interactive screens and the companies that sell them or the key components that make them interactive.
Mundrake and others with direct interests have rightly agreed that “Yes, touchscreens present a risk of harboring traces of the virus.” But they’ve also noted that screens are just another surface that need to be cleaned and sanitized steadily, like counters and doorknobs.
Now the Pennsylvania-based touch components supplier has put out a useful infographic that provides tips on what to do if using touchscreens, as well as announced a set of products that both deal with touch, and offer alternatives.
The low-tech solution is an alcohol-based hand cleaner with mount that attaches to new and existing TSItouch screens. It’s a logical, affordable option for the installed base out there. While there are hybrid screen/sanitizer solutions on the market, there are not many businesses or facility operators out there in a position to replace the kiosks and interactive screens they already have. But they can sink a couple of holes in an enclosure and attach a sanitizer bottle holder.
The challenge, of course, with this approach is keeping the bottles replenished.
The company is also now marketing an anti-microbial film, which adheres to the glass of touch displays. I know in discussions with Mundrake that he and his team have invested a LOT of time researching and testing options for these films. He was skeptical of some of the claims he was seeing from vendors, but has evidently found one he can get behind.
That noted, the company cautions that anti-microbials do not kill any germs on contact, but will inhibit some pathogens growth and therefore over time eliminate them. So they can help, but they’re by no means a panacea.
TSItouch now has an infrared-based “no-touch” touch solution, called AirTouch, that “allows for interactivity without requiring the user to physically touch the display. The IR beam is built around the display, instead of directly on top of it.”
It’s interesting, and I know some other companies like LA’s Mad Systems, have also developed these no-touch solutions. But I wonder how many users will pick up the difference – even if the welcome screen SCREAMS it – and just start boinking away at the surface with their index finger. Changing habitual activities ain’t easy.
Another part of the solution is regular, proper cleaning – though there’s not a lot that can be done if a screen gets cleaned, and then the next person using it has COVID-19.
TSI recommends following CDC and EPA guidelines for cleaning touchscreens. This site is continuously updated, check back often for new recommendations. TSI’s preferred method – wipe type products or apply cleaner to a cloth and then wipe. Do not spray cleaner directly on displays.
There are other technologies being developed and tested. I’ve been talking to one company that says it has a display surface that instantly kills the virus, which would be amazing. It has not been formally announced and released, though I sense it is imminent.
However, as stated at the top of this, it’s another surface. Putting too much focus on one surface overlooks the reality that going into a shop, rail station, office or pretty much any place that gets foot traffic presents a risk with all of its accessible surfaces.
Washing or sanitizing your hands, and keeping them out of your face until you do so, arguably remains the key counter-measure.
Dave Haynes is the founder and editor of Sixteen:Nine, an online publication that has followed the digital signage industry for some 14 years. Dave does strategic advisory consulting work for many end-users and vendors, and also writes for many of them. He’s based near Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Canada’s east coast.