It’s clear that COVID-19 has people rethinking long established cultural habits, such as shaking hands and standing close to others. It is also reshaping our technology habits, as people become less comfortable with touching the public surfaces of self-serve supermarket displays, information kiosks, and ATMs. Leading hand-tracking and haptics tech company, Ultraleap, recently published their 'The End of Public Touchscreens' study whitepaper with research that confirms this: people are rapidly changing their attitudes about public touchscreens due to the virus.
For those of us building embedded systems, this raises the important question: how do you best design a touchless public interface in a hygiene-sensitive society? What is the future of touchscreens in a world where a touch can mean anything from connection to bioweapon? While devices reserved for private use – those in the home or on one’s person – can be used without consideration of contamination, from here on out any devices used by the public may need to reconsider their embedded graphical user interface.
Creating a dialog with gesture-based GUIs
One way to create a touch-less GUI (or user interface, UI) is to use gesture recognition technology. A gesture-based UI creates a dialog between human and machine where the machine serves up screens full of information, and the human provides input through natural hand motions in front of (or above) the screen.
While gesture technology has been widely available since the Microsoft Kinect released in 2010, the most widespread public acceptance beyond gaming has been in automotive applications used by BMW and others. The benefits of a gesture controlled HMI are many: there are no hygiene issues with touching surfaces, there is no mechanical wear of buttons or switches, and it can be operated in areas with loud background noise.