Rethinking Public Technology in a COVID-19 Era

Lead Research Organisation: Swansea University
Department Name: College of Science


What do public interactive information displays, vending machines and pedestrian crossings have in common? They are just a few of the ubiquitous yet essential public infrastructures that rely on buttons or touchscreens; common interactions that, until recently, were considered perfectly safe to perform.

The Covid-19 pandemic, however, has created unprecedented opportunities for technologies that minimise interaction with shared devices. While recent advances in sensor technology and artificial intelligence have enabled consumer products that can respond to other modalities such as speech, gestures and faces, the underlying interaction paradigms have not been widely studied in public-facing settings (as opposed to specialised contexts such as operating theatres or with personal technologies in public). As a result, we do not know how usable, accessible, inclusive or effective these potential solutions are.

The project will begin by surveying the landscape of touch interactions in public services to learn through observation how they are being adapted or avoided. Drawing on these insights, we will develop and integrate a suite of touchless technologies into exemplar public-facing services in a test-bed city, facilitated by our partner, Swansea Council. These flexible longitudinal deployments will allow us to study usage in-situ to determine the most appropriate, robust and cost-effective ways of facilitating safe, touchless interfaces for the Covid-19 era (and any subsequent outbreaks).

The result of this work will be a public-facing touchless interaction design methodology and open-source toolkit of blueprints and techniques that can be integrated into existing infrastructures and used to inform the design of future installations.


10 25 50
Description - The general public are still very wary about touching shared surfaces in the wake of the pandemic. This has been evidenced through ethnographic studies and user evaluaation.
- We have developed and tested a suite of touchless technologies for use in the public domain and have shown good success
Exploitation Route We hope to disseminate the blueprints of our prototypes to the web to allow others to take our designs and integrate them into their public facing tehcnologies
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description Worked with City and County of Swansea to help them better understand how technology can be adapted in the future for accessibility and any future public health crises. In addition, low-income community members in a township (Langa, South Africa) were given the opportunity to develop design critique skills and also learn about future public technologies.
First Year Of Impact 2022
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services