As the world continues to battle COVID-19, Holland-based TES America already is at work with new technology to ensure future pandemics are mitigated or avoided altogether.
A major effort from the touchscreen company is underway to create public interactions that reduce human-to-human contact and prevent the spread of disease with contactless monitors, antimicrobial screens, LED-lit screen cleaning applications and even remote-control displays that allow customers to make transactions via their smart phones.
These contactless monitors come in the form of TES’s AirTouch technology, which takes the touch surface and moves it about two centimeters off of the actual touchscreen. Gene Halsey, general manager for TES America, said this option promotes safe interaction by eliminating physical contact.
“You interact with the screen as you normally would,” he said. “You go up, and you select buttons, you activate buttons. You do all the things that you normally would. You just do it a little bit off of the screen, so I don’t have to touch the space where all the junk’s residing.”
AirTouch is available on all TES touchscreens, and Halsey said the added benefit is there is a very shallow learning curve, as users can do everything they normally do without actually touching the screen.
The second tool TES rolled out takes a little more thought but offers more functionality. Users can scan a QR code on the screen via their mobile devices, which then initiates a connection, and users can use their phones like a track pad on a laptop to interact with the screen.
“The benefit there, theoretically, is I know what germs are on my phone,” Halsey said, laughing.
Scenarios where this track pad technology can be useful are public way-finding stations like in malls or with self-ordering kiosks at fast food restaurants.
“If you have a high turnover where a lot of people are using those screens, having that track pad contactless methodology puts the control back in the user’s hand as far as what they’re interacting with,” Halsey said.
While the track pad technology is not as intuitive as AirTouch, it allows the user more dexterity with the interface, like being able to pinch and zoom in on the screen, which can be useful with way-finders in a mall with multiple stories. AirTouch is better suited to simple interactions, like the self-checkout at the grocery store.
Much of this technology has been around in concept phases long before COVID-19, but the pandemic proved the need to get these technologies to market, Halsey said.
“I worry that the industry by itself is going to be very slow to react, because at the end of the day how do we protect ourselves from that today? We carry hand sanitizer with us,” Halsey said. “Hand sanitizer is dealing with cleaning something after you’ve theoretically been infected, where safe touch is about making sure you don’t get infected in the first place.”
Touch has been the standard for how people interact with information since the iPhone came out in 2007, but upgrading that technology for the COVID-19 world demands significant funds, and Halsey advocated for changes in government spending to quicken the transition.
“McDonald’s just did new cash registers two years ago,” he said. “McDonald’s is going to need some kind of incentive for somebody to say, ‘I need to upgrade those cash registers that I just spent all that money on two years ago to make them safe.’ So I think there is going to need to be that outside influence.”
Halsey said TES already has a customer adopting antiviral coatings for touch screens. The technology is activated by a UV light source that reacts to the screen and breaks down germs on the surface.
To increase its capabilities, TES recently acquired certain assets of 3M Touch Systems, a subsidiary of 3M Company.
3M specializes in components and displays for industries like casino gaming, medical equipment, public kiosks, collaboration tables and financial transactions. The purchase will enhance the current TES touch component and monitor portfolio while offering continued support to current 3M Touch Systems customers.
For Halsey, the acquisition brings back together two great legacies in touch technology. 3M traces its history back to MicroTouch in Boston, which pioneered commercial touch tech in the early 1980s.
TES started at about that same time as a division of Donnelly Corporation, Halsey said. Donnelly Mirrors had a division that was behind the science in those early MicroTouch touch screens.
“This whole thing is coming back full circle, and we’re acquiring that legacy company to fold into our portfolio,” Halsey said. “When you talk about who TES is and what it can bring to our customers, that brings strength, and it ties West Michigan to those roots of touch screens.”