An exploration of four touchless strategies: smartphones, voice, IR, and spatial computing.
Our Innovation Case Study series lets you hear directly from the innovator. Here, the team from Pushstart Creative break down how their touchless technology can be used in the COVID-era.
As life (hopefully) begins to return to normal in the coming months, there is no doubt that COVID-19 will have lasting effects on the way we all interact with the world.
Product and service companies alike need to rapidly adapt to meet the unprecedented challenges ahead by seeking out innovative solutions that will help their businesses thrive in this new normal.
Luckily, disruption creates opportunity.
Promising Touchless Technologies: As designers, we are always following and seeking out emerging technological trends. From our observations, the landscape of touchless-enabled hardware is as dynamic as it is diverse.
There are so many promising touchless-enabling technologies that it’s really just a matter of finding the one that creates the most seamless and memorable experience for your users.
Case Study: Touchless Treadmill
For this case study, we explored four touchless strategies: smartphones, voice, IR, and spatial computing. These four are nowhere near exhaustive of the types of touchless tech that can be utilized, but they apply nicely to our product topic: the treadmill.
The treadmill was selected as our touchless case study for two reasons:
1. It typically lives in a high-traffic, indoor space — a gym — where we would now want to limit surface contact area considerably or as completely as possible.
2. The treadmill itself has analogue controls that traditionally require a touch function
Let’s explore how a runner could adjust speed and incline on a treadmill at the gym, touchlessly.
As often as we have them in our hands, we probably don’t normally consider our phones as facilitators of touchless experiences — especially not sanitary experiences. However, through a myriad of embedded technological enablers, our phones often open the door to touchless experiences.
Think about Bluetooth and how it is a firmly established tech enabler that turns our phone into a controller for, say, a speaker. Or think about how NFC and the addition of Apple Pay, Google Wallet, etc. let us use our phones in place of plastic credit cards at payment terminals.
If a Bluetooth module is integrated into our treadmill, the runner is able to control the speed and incline via their personal device by wireless connecting and essentially hijacking the controls.
This route allows us to work with the already existing hardware, and without a need to redesign the treadmill itself you greatly decrease the overall cost and time to market. It also fits within an already existing usability archetype. We know that runners are already comfortable fiddling with their phones to utilize Nike Run Club or Spotify during their run, so there won’t be a steep learning curve in usability.
MORE WISE WORDS FROM SPRINGWISE
With the mainstream adoption of voice assistants like Alexa and Siri, there is no doubt that voice control has earned its place a viable solution for touchless interactions.
In a practical sense, voice can be an executional challenge — converting your voice into directions Alexa can understand requires a complex host of technological enablers from analogue microphones to machine learning and neural networks. The payoff, though, can be incredibly natural, invisible, and 100 per cent touchless.
To utilize voice to control the treadmill, Bluetooth would remain the technology that allows users to connect via a device, and they would leverage their phones or even smartwatches paired with a voice-enabled headset to deliver a natural, intuitive touchless experience. Once connected, runners could give commands to the treadmill — if they aren’t breathless from their sprint.
We do believe that voice sometimes requires a more tech-savvy user which can be a more niche audience; so this type of solution is only appropriate if you understand the needs, desires, and motivations of your customers.
Public restrooms have long showcased perhaps the most ubiquitously adopted touchless tech of all time — IR. Like echolocation with light, an IR sensor detects the proximity of objects (your hands) placed directly in front of its beam (under a faucet or dryer).
What IR lacks in flair it makes up for in dependability. It is definitely the go-to touchless technology for binary switches and inputs.
For our treadmill, we would pair an IR module with a holographic display that replicates the treadmill controls in mid-air to create our touchless experience. From an experience standpoint, this particular solution has a bunch of interesting qualities.
First, it maintains the universal accessibility of current treadmills since the user can jump on and begin a run — no phone or smartwatch necessary. Visually, it’s striking and a bit futuristic — which creates some brand equity and serves a great market differentiator.
However, this technology can only enable a fairly limited range of controls and can introduce a steep learning curve by presenting a novel usability archetype. Clearly there are some trade-offs here that illustrate the complexity of selecting features for a new product experience — even when those are on a familiar product.
Of the four technologies we are exploring, spatial computing draws from the widest range of technological enablers to accomplish a task. Depth cameras, AI, IR, motion tracking, machine learning, and multiple other technologies coalesce to create an understanding of the surrounding world and locating the user within that world. We’ve seen novel experiences created through spatial computing from grocery stores without checkout lines to gesture-controlled displays.
At first glance, our treadmill would appear as expected; but by combining different technologies, this solution could unlock several compelling experiences. Facial recognition and machine learning software would authenticate users and access their unique running accounts, allowing runners to access presets and browse tailored workouts.
Hand tracking would open up novel touchless controls that can be both fine-tuned (wave to increase speed) and binary (shoot air to start). Depth cameras could see when a runner is speeding up or slowing down, allowing the treadmill to automatically manage belt speed. The awareness and responsiveness of spatial computing opens the door to endless amounts of new experiential opportunities.
About PushStart Creative
Our crack team of researchers, strategists, designers, and engineers is ready to help you innovate in a post-COVID world. Let’s collaborate!
14th July 2020