The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the way people work, shop, and even how we relax at home. A host of hands-free and touch-less technologies have been on the rise to keep person-to-person as well as person-to-objects contact to a minimum, as this is one of the keys to controlling the pandemic.
Many of these technologies are not new but have found widespread use with the spread of COVID. The pandemic has also triggered a great deal of innovation to improve and further develop these technologies. Here are the prominent hands-free technologies keeping us safe in the post-COVID world.
Face Recognition and AI
Facial recognition scans with the help of algorithms based on Artificial Intelligence and Data Sciences have very helpful in the identification of people in large numbers at entry points in airports and business facilities. Now, there are even algorithms that can identify people who are wearing masks. Facial recognition, with help from CCTV footages, can help in tracking infected persons who break restrictions, especially those who break out of quarantine and isolation centers.
Most contact-less and hands-free access control technologies are either for authorized staff whose details are already known or visitors who are new to a site. This can mean businesses need multiple systems, resulting in increased expenses, space requirements, and maintenance issues.
Access control systems such as the NVITE Multitechnology Reader solve this issue by incorporating multiple reading technologies into the same system, providing access to the staff as well as visitors. While the employees can enter by producing their smart card or fob, a visitor can use a QR code for entry at the same access control point.
Thermal Screening Kiosks
Thermal scanning has become a primary screening method to identify potential COVID patients. Thermometers have undergone drastic transformations in a short time: first, it was the mercury thermometer used under the tongue. Then came the digital version without mercury, followed by the ear thermometer, which completely avoided body-fluid contact.
With the onset of the pandemic, the infrared-based forehead thermal scanner has found widespread use. However, this technology still needed to be held by the hand, so many organizations have switched to fully contactless and hands-free thermal scanning using systems such as a thermal kiosk. This can scan visitors and give an ‘OK’ signal to pass through. It is an automated system that doesn’t need anyone to touch anything.
Many business facilities are now using intelligent voice recognition systems to grant access to people instead of using fingerprint scanners that can spread infection. These are best suited for the staff whose voice can be pre-recorded, so the system will recognize the individual when it hears the same voice again. Intelligent programs can detect even minor variations in accents and intonation, thus making false recognition unliklely.
Voice communication controlled and coordinated by digital systems have been highly beneficial in environments requiring higher levels of isolation, such as hospitals where COVID patients are in isolation. In these systems, the patient has a smart badge beside their bed, and nurses or the patient’s family members can talk to the patient without entering the room or touching anything. It is highly beneficial as many healthcare workers have been contracting COVID, which severely affects the health system. Additionally, wastage of PPE kits can be reduced to a large extent.
Eye scans are another hands-free access method which had previously only been used in places such as airports and military-restricted areas, using either a retina scan or the iris scan. The retina scan recognizes the patterns of an individual’s retina, whereas the iris scan detects the characteristic physical features of their iris. These are unique biometric features that are never the same in two different individuals. You only need to stand for a moment in front of the scanning device to gain access with such systems, unlike a fingerprint scan where you have to touch the scanning device.
Voice-activated Home Devices
Homes have been increasingly using voice technology since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. More and more people rely on voice-activated devices like Alexa to start music, switch on and off appliances, or even to ask for recipes or other information. It provides hands-free operations that help avoid touching switches, buttons, and other surfaces, thus reducing chances of cross-contamination.
Touch-free dispensers for sanitizers and liquid soap as well as hands-free faucets in washing areas had already been in use well before COVID. However, their use has increased many time over thanks to the pandemic. Now, pedal-operated and sensor-controlled sanitizer dispensers and similar devices can be seen everywhere: from banks, shopping centers to restaurants, and even small stores.
For environments that have a high risk of contamination and/or involve a lot hands-on processes, a simple device called a ‘hygiene hook’ can be extremely useful. It is a small plastic hook that fits in your pocket and can be used to pull door handles without having to touch them. It is especially useful in hospitals and health centers, reducing cross-contamination between staff. It is highly beneficial though it cannot be considered a fully hands-free device.
Many technologies that have become widespread with the advent of COVID are not going to fade away even when the pandemic subsides. They have paved the way for new trends and consumer behavior, and it is likely that further technologies in this area in the future.