Touchless tech isn’t a new trend. From automatic doors, toilets, faucets, and hand dryers to Apple’s Face ID and Visa’s Tap to Pay, companies have been pursuing innovative ways to make tasks—especially tasks in public places—more convenient and more hygienic for years. And yet, in recent history, there’s never been a need for touchless tech like there’s a need for it now. The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the course of many trends in the IoT (Internet of Things) and greater tech space, and this is no exception. In the touchless sensing and gesture recognition space, will societal changes due to COVID-19, like the surge in contactless transactions, curb pickup, and touchless screens, translate into lasting demand for touchless solutions? Most likely, yes.
A new report from Market Research Future suggests the global touchless sensing market will reach $18 billion by 2023. A similar study from MarketsandMarkets projects the touchless sensing market will grow from $6.8 billion in 2020 to $15.3 billion in 2025, while the gesture recognition market will grow from $9.8 billion in 2020 to $32.3 billion in 2025. Application areas driving growth include transportation and automotive, healthcare, banking, and consumer electronics, among others.
Companies like Ultraleap offer technology capable of retrofitting existing touchscreens and buttons with touchless gesture control—from interactive kiosks to elevator controls and beyond. The company surveyed 500 people to assess their anticipated perceptions of public touchscreens in a post-COVID world, and the results suggest the touchless trend will outlast the pandemic. Eight in 10 participants said they now see public touchscreens as unhygienic, and 73% said they’d be willing to interact with touchless technology in the future.
Earlier this month at CES 2021, Intel announced its own contribution to this touchless future. The company revealed its Intel RealSense TCS (Touchless Control Software), which runs on top of current software to convert traditional touchscreen kiosks and digital signs into touchless interfaces. The software does this while preserving the existing user experience. In addition to the software, the solution requires an Intel RealSense Depth Camera D435 to covert touch-based experiences to touchless. Because it doesn’t require all-new displays or new core software systems, RealSense TCS is a relatively simple, cost-effective solution for banks, malls, retailers, and restaurants that are cash-strapped but in need of a more hygienic option for consumers in the midst of a public health crisis.
Even after the pandemic is over, it’s likely that public perception of what’s hygienic and acceptable in public spheres (and what’s not) will be different than it was pre-pandemic. Will individuals go back to hugs for familiar faces and handshakes for new business acquaintances? Will we still cram on planes, trains, and buses, or will social distancing measures stick to some degree? Will face mask wearing become normalized during flu season and beyond in places that previously did not embrace this practice? Will biometric health screenings at entry points to airports and other key junctions continue in an effort to protect public health? Only time will tell. For touchless tech, there may be a particular urgency in the air at the moment driving innovation and adoption, but the trend was there before the pandemic, and it will outlast it.
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