Before COVID-19 disrupted the world, “seamless” was one of the most commonly used buzzwords in business. Seamless things connect so well you cannot see what’s holding them together–flowing, consistent and beautifully put together. For leaders in many industries, the “seamless” customer experience is one to which they aspire. Every step of the journey appears effortless, tailored and specific to the requirements and interests of the consumer.
While the seamless experience isn’t going away anytime soon, it has been eclipsed by the coronavirus pandemic, where safety has taken precedence. As a result, organizations big and small, commercial, academic and governmental, now find themselves having to focus on a new word: contactless.
The Sudden Value of Contactless
COVID-19 has made contactless designs and technologies more valuable, reducing the potential contact with harmful viruses. And, because of all of the physical touchpoints common to commercial and public spaces, creating a hands-free experience is a priority. Not only does it lower risk but it also eliminates the need for incessant cleaning.
The move toward contactless technology isn’t something new; it’s been steadily developing for years. Hotels were some of the first companies offering guests curbside digital check-in, digital room keys, and voice assistants for opening curtains and turning on lights among others.
According to Business Wire, touchless technology markets are projected to explode to $9.2 billion by 2027. The report suggests that the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) in the United States will be almost 19 percent. In Europe and China, where the COVID-19 virus had a more profound effect, the contactless or touchless market growth is expected to be greater.
Preparing for a Touchless Workspace: How Possible Is It?
Research done at the National Institute of Health (NIH) into the coronavirus living on surfaces has revealed it can survive for two to three days on stainless steel and plastic. To compound matters, someone can also have the virus and be asymptomatic for 11 days. This means the virus (and others like it) have ample opportunity to silently infect as many people as possible. For people in shared workspaces, this problem can be frightening as they or someone they know could be within a high-risk population when contracting the virus.
The theory of a “hands-free” or “touchless” office allows organizations to take proactive measures to reduce cross-contamination. The more operations that are automated or touchless, the less the probability others may be infected. However, many leaders contemplating creating a touchless workplace might be wondering if a truly hands-free work environment is possible. If so, what obstacles would they be forced to overcome during the process?
To answer those questions, we’ve created a list of common features of a touchless office and some of what is now available.
Have you seen futuristic films where people were using controls they didn’t have to touch? With a point of their finger or flick of their wrist, they were able to control the devices in front of them.
Not too long ago, such technology was thought by many to be purely science fiction. Nevertheless, this technology has been under development for a few years already.
Technology that utilizes touchless sensing is run by “intelligent” software designed for advanced forms of human-and-machine interactions. Using motion alone, users are capable of controlling and monitoring devices via “contactless modes.” Today, the food and agribusiness industry is one area where touchless sensing technology is gaining huge traction. Leaders in this industry hope to reduce cross-contamination of food processing plants, among other places.
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) enabled Wireless Sensor Network (WSN) monitoring systems will enable applications such as:
- Precision agriculture
- Facility automation
- Machinery management
- Agricultural traceability or crop tracking
- Environmental monitoring
For offices, simple touchless technologies such as no-touch brushed steel trash cans use a few sensors to open its lid when someone places their hand above it. Automated paper towel dispensers allow users to adjust sheet length settings, as well as the time delay between sheets. Automatic hand sanitizers allow sanitizer to be dispensed without pushing or pulling anything.
Sound and Voice Recognition
Sound recognition technology uses voice-enabled commands to control or operate most things that once required remote controls. For example, voice-controlled smart thermostats not only allow end users to control the climate using voice-activated commands, but they also learn and adapt to end users schedules. Products like Amazon’s Echo Show (Alexa), the Lenovo Smart Display, and Apple Siri offer voice recognition solutions for most workplaces.
The Amazon Echo includes built-in video conferencing and works with a huge array of IoT devices, and also works with most existing conference room infrastructures. You can also add the Digital Assistant Skill to an Echo Show, allowing users to automatically connect all of their existing smartphone business applications to Alexa. From there, anyone with access can just ask the Digital Assistant anything.
When most people think augmented reality (AR), they most likely envision AR games, AR movies, or AR tours of historical places. However, AR technology has become a huge player in the touchless office of the future. Big tech companies like Facebook are already experimenting with a cutting edge desk AR setup using virtual screens that actually float in the air. Codec Avatars featuring employees’ faces help improve social interactions in the virtual world.
Google is reportedly experimenting with the idea of holographic glasses and temporary “smart tattoos.” The temporary tattoo is said to transform people’s bodies into living touchpads, while the glasses allow you to see virtual objects. Using virtual reality (VR) controllers, users can pick up those virtual objects and even feel their weight while manipulating them. According to CNET, this is the new future of wearable technology.
Coinciding with sound and voice recognition, facial recognition technology has advanced exponentially. This technology reads and identifies occupants, opening doors for them, deters unauthorized people from entering, among other security-related functions.
Smartphone Touchless Controls
Smartphones have featured various touchless controls for several years already. Indeed, it’s no surprise to see control over the touchless workplace shifting to individual smartphones. While possibly not having the appeal of other “cutting-edge” technologies, a smartphone is a quick, affordable, and simple solution to touchless implementations. On top of that, most people understand how to operate most functions on their smartphones, which eases the cognitive overload of learning new technology while trying to get work done.
Another thing to consider is how smartphone touchless controls promise to minimize the number of cords needed in a room. For example, things such as USB devices, switches, HDMI cables, volume, and power buttons present difficult and rarely cleaned surfaces.
Smartphone touchless controls save time and money by decreasing the number of places that need disinfecting numerous times a day. Practically speaking, it’s almost impossible to guarantee people will be disciplined enough to keep every common touchpoint sanitized.
Even the underfloor layout of your power and data cabling can be understood without the time-consuming process of having to “touch” or lift flooring plates. Through an application called Gridd® Mobile, busy facility managers, IT teams, electricians, and maintenance personnel can essentially “see through the floor” to access as built drawings, scan product bar codes to get product details, pull data or locate the wiring beneath the floor—all from the convenience of a tablet or smartphone.
While all facets of a touchless workplace can’t fit into a single article, this discussion should give a solid expectation of how to begin creating a touchless workplace. And while many people are talking about these safety measures being the “new normal,” things have been heading this direction anyway. Rather than for convenience, organizations are taking steps to create a safer world and a safer future.
A main priority of advancing technology is cable management. The adoption of touchless technology requires the installation of power cables and wiring. How much wiring and cabling needed totally depends on the project—but keeping things organized and easily accessible remains equally important. While most people hear about the technology and trends that are shaping the “new normal”, the developments in construction technology and raised floors are what is creating the seamless change needed to develop a safer working environment.