It is hoped that the United States will soon enter a post-pandemic world. It will probably be a temporary experience. The memories are still raw and the conditioning – wash your hands for two “Happy Birthday” songs! Don’t touch your face! – is always instinctive. Meanwhile, throughout 2020, the tech industry pushed for products meant to minimize, disinfect, or track physical touch. Which of these will we reject as society fully reopens and what might become permanent?
Earlier this year, while epidemiologists were still working on the main means of transmission of the virus, we started to see new applications for wearable devices. The Immutouch, for example, was a bracelet designed to break compulsive habits like biting nails by vibrating every time the user raised their hand in a specific position. The founders rotated instead of a product that buzzes when you’re about to touch your face. Over the summer, NASA made a similar product in the form of an open-source 3D printed Necklace called Pulse.
Touchless touch screens, controlled by gestures, have also arrived in museums and shopping malls. One version, at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, was produced by Ideum. Not only do you control a cursor with hand movements, twisting your finger to click or making a fist to drag objects; if you try to physically touch the screen, the border turns red, emitting a slight reprimand. The system won Ultraleap’s developer competition to design a better contactless interface, a competition that also saw projects to buy personalized ice creams and operate an elevator.
If you were to get in touch with the physical world, Apple and Samsung have introduced hand washing features on their smartwatches to thoroughly clean them afterwards. For the Galaxy Watch, a handwashing app reminds you to clean every two hours and lets you swipe to start a 25-second timer once you boot. In watchOS 7, meanwhile, the device can automatically detect when you wash your hands using motion sensors and the sound of running water, timing the process accordingly.
To monitor your condition, $ 300 Oura smart rings – those from the NBA splashed on – supposed to detect symptoms of COVID-19 by tracking temperature and heart rate among other measurements, while Fitbit also introduced monitoring the skin temperature on his Sense smartwatch. And, of course, the exposure notification from Apple and Google project can tell you if you’ve crossed paths with someone who might be contagious.
Still, the point is that the usefulness of some of these pandemic gadgets may not survive the terrible time we are in. There is little evidence, for example, that we had to wear portable air purifiers, like the specimen LG offers. As science has increasingly shown that the virus spreads primarily through the air and not through surfaces, overzealous demonstrations of public disinfection are necessarily vital, even if regular hand washing and proper hygiene are observed. remain important.
To get a feel for the lasting, non-contact changes in our world, instead think about the subtle moderating trends in our use of touch that were already underway.
Contactless payments have been around for a long time; Department stores from 7 to 11 at Kohl’s now allow in-store customers to pay via an app. Some US airports use digital tokens on a smartphone to verify identity, reducing the back and forth between handing passports to officers. The new apartments are more and more Equipped with keyless locks, opening automatically when you are nearby or activated by smartphone. Restaurants have turned to menus (and sometimes payments) accessible via QR codes on every table. Drone deliveries now carry the fantasy of a perfectly sterile supply chain, where no human ever has to touch an object – like us reported, this year, they delivered everything from PPE to bagels, with trials taking place in Virginia and Florida. These are all long-promised trends that now escape the so-called “new normal” of pandemic living: staying home as much as possible and always remaining vigilant about hygiene in the outside world.
Where working close to others is a necessity, computer vision startups are now. sale the ability of their artificial intelligence to monitor workplaces for adequate social distancing or the wearing of masks. Amazon, in fact, already has implemented technology – calling it the Remote Assistant – in warehouses. This isn’t the only area in which Amazon has pivoted. The Echo Frames – essentially, glasses with Alexa – were this year marketed by Jeff Bezos’ company also useful because they can be used without touching, a form of computing that you can interact with under a face shield. Amazon’s cashier-less “ Go ” grocery stores have continued to grow – and suddenly look more appealing than exposing themselves to a human employee of the supermarket.
These technologies were already under development. But the imperatives of the pandemic have given them a new openness with the public. In times of social change, when people are forced to adopt new habits, tech companies are only too happy to integrate their voice computing or computer vision systems into society. That we wanted, for example, computers to track the exact movements of every warehouse worker – how could this technology be used after the pandemic? – is another question. This is a question worth asking, because once we let powerful new technologies into our lives, it’s harder to go back later.
Maybe we’ll wake up someday soon, do all of our travel, work, and shopping while barely meeting, let alone touching, another organic entity. If so, the funny thing is, maybe it was the contactless, individualistic future that we were already heading towards. He just arrived a little earlier.