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Five on Friday: 5 touchless gadgets that almost seem unreal

In CNA's regular look at what hit the headlines during the week, Five on Friday touches on some contactless tech products we can’t believe exist.

Five on Friday: 5 touchless gadgets that almost seem unreal

Touchless tech such as hologram check-out kiosks and invisible headphones. (Photos: Meiyume website, Facebook/Noveto, Screengrab/7-Eleven and Elliptic Labs website)

SINGAPORE: In 1990 when American rapper MC Hammer released the song U Can’t Touch This, he definitely wasn't hinting at a future filled with touchless technology.

However, that may soon be a reality after two years of living through a pandemic.

With our brains now wired to sanitise every surface, companies are slowly rolling out more tech tools for a contactless lifestyle.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said this month it is trialling "touchless buttons" at four traffic crossings around the island for six months.

Instead of pushing a button, pedestrians only need to wave in front of the button to activate the green man. This is part of efforts to minimise physical contact at signalised crossings to "reduce wear and tear on our infrastructure", LTA said.

For those of us who prefer to keep our hands to ourselves (and keep viruses at bay), here are other types of touchless tech around the world that we could get behind:  

TOUCHLESS TOUCHSCREENS

Elliptic Labs Windows 8 touchless gesture control. (Photo: Elliptic Labs)

Touchless touchscreens. An oxymoron?

But there are in fact touchscreens that work without physical contact.

For example, way before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, software company Elliptic Labs developed a touchless gesture control system for Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system.

No more fingerprints, no more long hours of cleaning said fingerprints. 

The touchless system uses ultrasound to track a user’s hand movements just like this:

Another one of the company’s offerings, the AI Virtual Gesture Sensor, also allows users to perform hand movements in the air to control their devices.

According to Elliptic Labs, you only need to move your hand to mute your phone when you receive an incoming call or gesture to do a swipe down if you want to read a notification on your device.

INVISIBLE HEADPHONES

Noveto N1 device that plays audio right into users' ears. (Photo: Facebook/Noveto)

If you’re part of the group that thinks wireless earbuds are too much to handle, wait till you hear about invisible "headphones". That's right, invisible.

Research and product development company Noveto launched the N1 audio device earlier this year, promising to deliver audio right into our ears from a distance.

How does it work you ask? According to the company, the N1 will beam ultrasonic audio waves at you, creating two focused pockets of energy outside your ears. 

The audio is clear to the listener but people nearby will only be able to catch about 10 per cent of the sound, much like a whisper.

The device made its debut at the International Consumer Electronics Show and needless to say, it made an impact. 

Sounds like something out of a science fiction movie? Here’s a video on how it works:

HOLOGRAM CHECK-OUT KIOSK

Screengrab of a tutorial video showing the hologram self check-out kiosk available in some 7-Eleven stores in Tokyo, Japan. (Screenshot: YouTube/Seven & I Holdings)

Japan is known for its creative inventions.

For example, there are glasses that flash light notifications when connected to a smartphone, and umbrella hats used as a heat preventive measure during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

But here’s a recent one: Hologram registers for self check-out at 7-Eleven stores. 

As of February, the contactless check-out kiosks are being tested out at six 7-Eleven outlets in Tokyo.

According to a tutorial video, when a customer scans their product, the holographic touch screen will pop up at an angle that is only visible to them.

Once everything is scanned, customers can then proceed on to payment, which is of course contactless as well.

TOUCHLESS SAMPLING TESTER

Meiyume's touchless sampling tester. (Photo: Meiyume website)

Love shopping but wary of touching perfume, cologne, lotion samples on display?

Here's a piece of touchless tech you might like. 

Product and retail solutions provider for the beauty industry Meiyume created a touchless sampling tester which is also motion-activated. 

The tester can dispense fragrance or liquid skincare products without the customer or sales assistant touching the bottle.

The battery or power-operated touchless tester display can also be adjusted based on the size of different bottles, according to the company.

MICROCHIPS UNDER SKIN

Illustration of a man using X-ray technology on a mobile device to scan a chip implanted in his arm. (Photo: iStock/ Petri Oeschger)

In some countries, the concept of touchless tech is so advanced that it’s getting under our skin.

Some people in Sweden are walking around with microchips inserted into their hands, allowing them to swipe their hands against digital readers to access their homes, offices and gyms, US news organisation NPR reported.

Information such as emergency contact details, social media profiles or e-tickets for events and train rides within Sweden can be stored on these microchips. 

According to NPR, the tiny chip, which is around the size of a rice grain, is inserted into the skin just above a person’s thumb. The procedure costs US$180.

While supporters of the microchips have said there is little hacking risk, critics have pointed to privacy issues surrounding the technology. 

So, how far will you go for a contactless lifestyle? 

Source: CNA/ng(ta)
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