Is this the end of touchscreens?
Or just the beginning for alternative interactive solutions?
Measures against the spread of Covid-19, such as lockdowns, social distancing, and altered attitudes towards the use of touchscreens, put a halt to the increasing need for public-facing touch-first devices.
The relationship between touch interactivity and people has clearly taken a turn. When was the last time you saw touchscreen signage or kiosks without at least a hand sanitizer station placed nearby? As much as standard greeting etiquettes like a peck on the cheek or handshakes have nearly turned sinful over the last year, people’s attitudes towards touch-based digital interactivity have been forever altered. We will likely never feel completely safe about using them again. So, for now, we need to take a look at alternatives to touch interaction, providing visitors with safer alternatives. The approaches are not new but certainly have a renewed level of interest and reduced technology costs.
Countless interactive technologies, including sensors, deep learning computer vision, audience analytics, touch emulation and mobile device integration, have become more advanced and attainable than ever. Diverse touch-less technology methods have received strong attention over the past 12 months. We are going to take you through our top 7 technologies that we expect to see a lot more of over the coming few years. Ready? Let’s get started.
#1 Hand Tracking
Gesture controls is nothing new. This technology has been around for a while now and most recently introduced into the world of VR, to capture users hand movements that allows for interaction within the digital experience. Products such as the ‘Leap Motion’ will track your hand and individual finger motion in front of a screen that allow users to virtually click, drag and swipe through content, without the need to physically touch the screen. Your hand essentially becomes the mouse. With its plug and play features, we anticipate that we will see more of these included within interactive installations.
#2 Motion Tracking
Remember playing ‘Xbox Kinect’ games? Standing in your living room flapping your arms around to balance on your virtual surfboard? Yeah, this too has been around for a while and had seen developers take motion tracking technology to greater heights, utilising it for industrial and retail solutions. 3D cameras track skeletal movements as well as depth perception.
A great solution when used in ‘ideal’ installations but has been known to be problematic when used in real-world situations. Having only one person in the field of view to properly track is achievable in your home (not so much when toddlers are involved!) but is this possible at a tradeshow or shopping centre? Not really.
This does not mean that they should be dismissed altogether. They are still great tools for tracking visitor numbers through gateways and other controlled areas. However, the ‘Kinect’ stopped being supported by Microsoft a while back now which does make you question how reliable and adaptable this would really be. Other similar solutions are still available, and software is becoming more advanced.
#3 NFC & RFID
Both solutions are readily available just depends on the choice of distribution. We can all receive NFC signals on our phones and mobile devices. Great for directing visitors to online content, launching apps, identification purposes and payments. Scanning a QR code can also achieve most of these tasks, but not all. So, NFC can really be useful when used in the right way.
RFID is a similar approach to NFC however the underlying technology is different. And therefore, is better for some tasks and maybe not as slick for others. RFID works by using tags and receivers. When a tag such as an RFID badge, wristband, or sticker, is detected by a receiver, it will register the unique details of that individual tag. This means that we can assign tags to people, products, or zones and we can then find out exactly who or what is interacting with the installation. This can be used to trigger specific content, grant access to secure areas, or track visitor engagement around an exhibition stand.
The main difference in approaches between the two comes down to the fact that we all have NFC compatible devices in our pockets ready to use, whereas visitors would need to be assigned an RFID tag to allow for interaction. It all depends on the approach to the customer experience.
#4 Remote Mobile Control
One of the golden rules of digital engagements is to make the act of interaction as simple and familiar as possible. And what is the one thing we all interact with hundreds of times each day? Our smart phones. So, what better way than to give your visitors the ability to navigate and control your signage from their phones.
User will be able to control video walls, play videos, flick through brochures, use virtual keyboards all from their device. Creating bespoke solutions through some clever HTML is totally possible but there are some off-the-shelf solutions out there now, such as US based company ‘Freetouch’. Their subscription software can easily be integrated into new and existing installations that essentially turns the user’s phone into a trackpad and mouse. A great solution for keeping you interactive projects, well, interactive!
We’re very excited to talk about haptics! For those not in the know, haptics put simply is a form of 3D touch that can create an experience of touch by applying forces, vibrations, or motions to the user. I’m sure you are all familiar with this technology, even if you didn’t know what it was called, as you will experience haptics interaction when you type on your phone, you may receive a small vibration each time you press a key. Or when your PlayStation controller feeds back to you that you just got shot by triggering a vibration.
But things are moving on quickly and there are some incredibly cool bits of tech out there that can help use create touch less interactions. Ultraleap’s ‘STRATOS Inspire’ takes this concept and merges it with Ultrasound waves to create a mid-air touch panel that can create 3D buttons. Essentially you can feel textures and interact with on-screen features by placing you hand above the sensor. Pretty cool eh!
#6 Facial Tracking
Facial tracking is now a feasible option for marketers. Content can be customised and triggered dependant on the gender, age, or emotion of the visitor. And you don’t necessarily need the most expensive hardware to achieve this. USB web cams can just as easily be programmed to deliver the same results as high-end solutions.
However, a couple of main factors need to be considered. How well can your visitors interact with your digital signage display? Can visitors navigate and browse through vast amounts of information using only their eyes? Probably not. It’s not a common form of interaction and some guidance on how to operate your system would surely be required upfront. Can they trigger a video to play as they walk past and lock eyes on your screens? Yeah, sure!
And the next big question is privacy. How much data is your camera collecting? Any recordings or personal identification data needs to be handled carefully and you will also need to let your visitors know that you are filming them. If the data is generic, such as whether they are a female between the age of 30-40’s, then that’s fine. Anything more detailed needs to be considered carefully.
And the final sticking point you might encounter at future exhibitions or events, is face masks. I feel that I don’t need to elaborate on that point.
#7 Voice Recognition
‘Alexa’ and ‘OK Google’ are possibly the most common words uttered in many households now. But voice recognition has been around a lot longer than our helpful assistant ‘Alexa’. And what’s great about it is the accessibility options it gives to users. Most of use have it on our phones, in our cars and homes. But it needs to be considered carefully when talking about visitor engagement. Noisy venues, such as the many that we aim to be based in as engagement specialists, do not lend themselves kindly to voice controlled interfaces. A great solution when used in the right environment.
So, what does all this mean for the touchscreen?
Well, old habits die hard. Touchscreens penetrated our lives thanks to the incredible spread of personal devices, including mobile phones, tablets, and touchscreen laptops. Hell, even my car has a touchscreen! For as long as touch remains a significant part of the way we live, we expect the same from public facing installations. Countless public places such as airports, train stations, retail shops and even restaurants have long depended on touchscreen solutions to function efficiently and accurately; it’s unlikely that alternatives will fully replace touch interactions. Touchscreens will stay, but the rules are going to change. At least for the next few years.
Have you seen our touch free solution for distributing literature and media at events? Head over for more information: Request Shed™ Connect