The world has changed since the arrival of Covid-19. How we interact with computers, particularly displays, may never be the same. Improvements in resolution, color fidelity, and content reproducibility will march on. Eyestrain and screen-time issues will remain at the forefront. And designers will continue to make displays increasingly power efficient. Perhaps compounded by the challenges posed by Covid-19, displays are expected to remain the principle person-to-machine interface in the decades ahead.
Going Touchless in A World Touched by Covid
Covid-19 has forced many of us to work from home or in relative isolation in partitioned offices with little human interaction. We’re spending far more time in front of displays than people. But what about the millions of people who still work outside the home? They have no choice but to deal with displays that often call for touchscreen interaction. And therein lies the problem: how to activate a screen without direct contact to avoid exposure to germs and viruses. Wearing gloves to guard against exposure is often inadequate in registering a choice on a touchscreen. No worries. There are options.
Talk of the Industry: Hands-Free Interaction
This pandemic will undoubtedly boost demand for touchless interaction. Voice-user interfaces have already been widely accepted in home environments. One need only look at the ubiquity of virtual assistants in our smartphones, smart speakers, and personal computers to see that a logical next step would be to make these same assistants available in public forums.
It no surprise, then, that some companies have opted to expand their use of touchless interactive displays. These allow individuals to simply speak to a display to activate a choice or task. It’s more natural than pressing buttons or flat-screen icons and a lot safer. Initially beset with problems, today’s voice recognition technology is advancing rapidly. Voice-enabled digital assistants have already been integrated into a vast array of displays and devices.
This growth has been fueled by voice processing companies whose voice recognition technology can be found in most voice-enabled devices. Advanced voice processing algorithms have become quite adept at detecting even softly-spoken voice commands from across a room. Other advancements include sound-source separation, which extracts multiple voices in a conversation to favor one, and cancellation technology that filters out ambient noise.
Keeping Touchscreens ‘Touch-Safe’
Some companies are looking at ways to keep touchscreens clean. Public or semipublic displays or kiosks in offices, waiting rooms, stores, and similar areas can be equipped with hand sanitizers and screen wipes. Verbal and written reminders can warn people before touching these display surfaces to clean them before and after touching the screen. Similar reminders can also encourage people not to crowd around touchscreens, to stand on floor markers, and to help guide queue spacing and maintain social distancing.
Going Beyond the Surface to Ensure Safety
Touchscreens are increasingly being used in schools and hospitals. This has alarmed many safety-conscious administrators, particularly in the age of Covid-19. To limit the growth of germs on interactive touch screens, they can be coated with silver-ion containing solutions and can be applied to displays as large as 86 inches. Medical-grade anti-microbial materials, such as ionic silver, are absorbed by the pathogen and inhibit the cell division and replication of pathogens. The FDA and EPA have formally recognized the effectiveness of ionic silver agents and have certified their use in surgical masks, food containers, water filters, bandages, and biomedical devices.
Unmanned Public Displays
Schools, airports, hospitals, and government facilities are all eager to resume operations following prolonged lockdowns. But they need to do more to safely and efficiently enforce social distancing and identify people with elevated temperatures. To address this problem, unmanned display kiosks are being equipped with temperature sensing devices.
Interactive avatar kiosks can perform touchless body temperature scans and convey readings higher than normal temperatures to staff (generally above 100.4 F). Through the use of AI interactive avatars, the kiosks employ voice and facial recognition, motion detection, and natural language processing to provide a variety of touch-free service options.
Advanced kiosk displays eliminate the need for a dedicated employee to manually take everyone’s temperature and can reduce bottlenecks at points of entry. Digital signage can also display updates about Covid-19 safe practices and symptoms. And they can suggest actions needed to ensure people stay safe. Digital signage displays can keep people informed about the number of cases in any given area, changes in protocol, tightened or loosened restrictions, state and federal guidance, and other news. Digital displays are the ideal medium for showing graphics, videos, and visually appealing charts.
To keep people from gathering around signs, digital signage displays can provide information to visitors, employees, and customers—everything from wayfinding to business hours to directories and common questions. Digital displays are also ideal for meeting organizers. Participants can sign up for meeting times in advance. Meeting rooms can be booked ahead of time to prevent bottlenecks at reservation desks. Large displays can be used during meetings to share information—touch-free—without the need for handouts.
Interactive Displays Getting Smarter
Smarter, more engaging interactive displays are becoming more time and cost-efficient. Today’s RFID/NFC readers can be used to trigger payment processing or display more customized information. Through web triggering, visitors can remotely drive on-screen content using their mobile devices. Some companies already support word commands, capturing information, or reacting to commands activated from popular providers. A touch-free interaction means a germ-free one.
Smart Displays Meet Smart Speakers
It had to happen. Speakers and displays uniting to get smarter. Adding a display capability to smart speakers makes sense. Instead of relying on a voice assistant to demonstrate what a consumer should do, they can show walk them through the process visually. And who wouldn’t want that? These smart displays are simply smart speakers with touch screens. They provide hands-free voice-assistant features, letting users play music, check the weather, and control smart home devices via voice command. Adding a screen to the mix provides an exciting new threshold of information and control. It lets customers see the album art or even watch the title’s music video. Kicking off this trend are several smart displays on the market, including a variety of voice-assistant platforms and manufacturers. In the age of Covid-19, any touch-free control gets us closer to germ-free.
Displays with an Eye on Eyestrain
Covid-19 has locked many into their homes and sealed-off cubicles and offices. This means we spend far too much time staring at computer screens, smartphones, and tablets. Result: more eyestrain issues. The solution? Make display screens easier on the eyes. Help is already at hand. Some settings built into the mobile and PC operating systems can help reduce eyestrain. They may also make it easier to fall asleep after spending hours staring at a blue-lit screen. Changing screen colors from white to orange-hued is another option.
Clearly, display manufactures are getting the message, especially from addicted gamers and those who love to watch movies and binge watch hours of TV shows. For example, some displays feature low blue-technology, flicker-free performance. Other manufacturers have even added advanced ergonomic features to reduce monitor eye strain and enhance viewing pleasure.
With people spending more time on computers and similar devices, displays need to be more power-efficient. The power used by a computer or TV display can vary considerably depending on the display technology, the manufacturer, screen size, static vs. moving images, screen brightness, and power-saving settings. In general, OLEDs are more efficient depending on the brightness for the same resolution. The crossover point may vary from screen to screen.
Covid-19 has forced us to improve displays and how we use them. Whether it’s touch-free or germ-free, display technology will march on, bringing us ever closer to each other and the machines that serve us.
Commentary by Dr. Radu Reit. Here’s what you’ve missed?
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