GHOST TOUCH: A retrofittable system to make public touchscreens contactless for a post-Covid world

Lead Participant: Figment Productions Limited

Abstract

This project will address one simple aspect of daily life in a post-Covid-19 world with the aim of enabling 'business as usual' behaviour. Specifically, that aspect is the use of touchscreens in public spaces. For instance, the museum and visitor attractions industries use touch-screens to deepen and enrich experiences by allowing visitors to explore deeper layers of information that are often referred to as 'digital interpretation'. In a world where we will all be far more conscious of germs, will we really want to touch our fingertips to the same glass and metal as thousands of other strangers, bearing in mind pathogens can live for days on such surfaces?

Coronavirus can live for 2-3 days on touchscreens and their use has been flagged as a concern by epidemiologists. Infectious disease epidemiologist Dr Tara Smith from Kent State University said: "Since so many people are touching them day in and day out, they're a great place for viruses and bacteria to be deposited by infected individuals and be picked up by healthy ones, spreading the germ to new people."

This project will deliver a prototype system designed to create a new paradigm for visitor interactions. The idea is to make 'responsive interaction points' (screens, speakers etc.) by enabling them to identify visitors as individuals and respond by presenting relevant information to them automatically based on their preferences: 'pushing' content rather than requiring a user to 'pull' it via touch interactions. The aim is for it to be retrofittable but most importantly, it should remove the need for users to physically touch a screen directly.

In a secondary use-case, the idea can work to enhance usability of existing touchscreens whilst also reducing the number of required touches by delivering a completely new way of handling accessibility issues. For instance, if a visitor has registered as hard of hearing, a screen would automatically switch on subtitles for them. Or, if a visitor has registered as visually impaired, the screen could automatically switch to a high-visibility mode with high contrast colours and larger font sizes.

The primary innovation here will be in the novel combination of new technologies to identify an individual 'passively' and apply their preferences to a content-based experience.

Many innovations have blended with modern life. For instance, in the majority of car parks today you no longer need to worry about finding coins for the ticket machine; just pay for parking with an app and get the added benefit that your phone will remind you when it's about to run out. Innovations like this soon become ubiquitous and prompt the question: "How did we ever put up with the old way of doing that?" And when it's potentially a matter of life and death, as with virus transmission, such a question has added weight.

In the new world there are likely to be many daily dilemmas where convenience is weighed against health risk. The use of touchscreens may initially seem unimportant, but it could have significant economic impact on many businesses across many industries, as well as affecting entertainment and cultural experiences that enrich our daily lives. This innovation could be destined to make a small contribution in a big way, as it is applicable to millions of devices used by millions of people around the world, every minute of every day.

Lead Participant

Project Cost

Grant Offer

Figment Productions Limited, DORKING £49,999 £ 49,999

Publications

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