It is hoped that the United States will soon enter the post-pandemic world. This may be an tentative experience. The memories are still very primitive, and there are conditions-two “Happy Birthday” songs for washing hands! Don’t touch your face! -Still instinctive. At the same time, throughout 2020, the technology industry has been promoting products designed to reduce, disinfect or track physical contact. With the full opening of society, which ones will we discard? Which will become permanent?
At the beginning of this year, when epidemiologists were still studying the main ways the virus spreads, we began to see new applications for wearable devices. For example, Immutouch is a wristband designed to break compulsive habits, such as nail biting, by vibrating whenever the user raises his hand to a specific position. The founder turned his attention to a product that buzzes when you want to touch your face. Throughout the summer, NASA produced similar products in the form of an open source 3D printed necklace (called Pulse).
Non-touch touch screens controlled by gestures have also reached museums and shopping malls. Ideum produced a version at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. Not only can you control the cursor with hand movements, bend your fingers to click or fist to drag objects; if you try to physically touch the screen, the frame will turn red and a condemnation will be emitted. The system won the Ultraleap developer competition for designing a better contactless interface, which also attracted projects to buy custom ice cream and operate elevators.
If you really need to connect with the physical world, both Apple and Samsung have introduced hand washing features on their smart watches to clean up dutifully. For Galaxy Watch, the hand washing app will remind you to clean up every two hours and allow you to swipe once to start a 25-second timer. At the same time, in watchOS 7, the device can automatically detect when you wash your hands through motion sensors and the sound of running water, so as to time the process accordingly.
To monitor your condition, our $300 Oura smart ring (an NBA sensation) is designed to detect COVID-19 symptoms by tracking indicators such as temperature and heart rate, and Fitbit has also introduced skin temperature tracking on its Sense smartwatch Features. And, of course, Apple and Google’s exposure notification programs can tell you whether you’re crossing the road with potentially infectious people.
However, the fact is that the usefulness of some of these popular gadgets may not exceed the terrible time we are in. For example, there is little evidence that we need to carry portable air purifiers like the specimens provided by LG. Just as science has increasingly shown that viruses are mainly spread through the air rather than through the surface, even if regular hand washing and maintaining hygiene awareness are still important, fanatical public disinfection methods are not necessarily essential.
In order for our world to experience lasting non-contact change, consider the subtle trend that has already begun to reduce the use of touch.
For a long time, contactless payment has been launched one after another. Major stores from 7-11 to Kohl’s now allow in-store customers to pay through the app. Some airports in the United States are using digital tokens on smartphones to verify identities, thus reducing the back and forth process of transferring passports to agents. New apartments are increasingly equipped with keyless locks, which open automatically when you are nearby or activated via a smartphone. Restaurants have moved to menus (sometimes even payment) accessed via QR codes on each table. The delivery of drones now comes with the illusion of a completely sterile supply chain, in which no one needs to touch anything. As we reported, this year they offered a variety of products from PPE to bagels, and conducted trials in Virginia and Florida.
These are the trends that people have long promised, and they have now merged with the so-called “new normal” of the epidemic: stay at home as much as possible and be vigilant about the health of the outside world.
Where close collaboration with others is required, computer vision startups are now selling their artificial intelligence capabilities to monitor adequate social distancing or the ability to wear masks in the workplace. In fact, Amazon has implemented this technology in warehouses-called remote assistants. This is not the only area Amazon has entered. Jeff Bezos’ company has brought Echo Frames (basically glasses with Alexa) to the market this year because they can be operated without touch, a type of computing that can be interacted under a mask form. Amazon’s cashierless “Go” grocery store continues to expand-suddenly, more attractive than the super workers who confront themselves with the supermarket.
These technologies are already under development. But the pandemic is bound to force them to reopen to the public. In the era of social change, when people are forced to develop new habits, technology companies are very happy that they cannot embed their voice computing or computer vision systems into society. For example, are we going to use computers to track the exact activities of each warehouse worker—how will the technology be used after the pandemic? -It’s another question. This is a question worth asking, because once we put powerful new technologies into our lives, it is difficult to reuse them in the future.
Maybe we will wake up one day soon and do all the travel, work, and shopping, and rarely encounter, let alone contact another organic entity. If so, the interesting thing is that this is how we have moved towards a non-contact, individualistic future. It just arrived earlier.