Consumer Peripherals

How contactless technology is thriving in the COVID-19 era

03 September 2020

COVID-19 is a catalyst driving the demand for contactless technologies. 77% of consumers now expect an increase in touchless experience, as per a survey by Capgemini. Acting in response to this rising demand, organizations are innovating new products and redefining their processes to reduce any and all physical contact. They are also adopting new technologies to keep essential workers safe and provide a superior customer experience, while reducing the risk of infection.

To decelerate the spread of COVID, only essential movement of people and goods is recommended. Different technologies are being introduced and implemented to increase touchless interfaces during this movement. RFID systems, for example, allow easy access into buildings and societies, NFC is paving the way for contactless payments, eBOL is simplifying data interchange in supply chain, voice control is making action on commands seamless, and face recognition is redefining digital identification. Below is a close look at each of these technologies and insights on their growth factors.

RFID systems for secure entry

Technology in focus: A vehicle using an radio-frequency identification (RFID) tag sends an impulse to the barrier control system equipped with an RFID reader, to allow secure entry. RFID systems use cryptographic encryption to prevent copy.

Area of impact: RFID systems have redefined access control. It is used with a tag and a reader to offer secure access into gated communities, office compounds or private premises. Used as a replacement for magnetic strip cards, these special chip cards trigger gates and barriers to allow entry.

Industry influence: This contactless technology impacts transportation, movement and logistics. It removes the risk of an infected person transmitting the virus through direct physical contact with the surface of a PIN pad, fingerprint sensor or through microbes and viruses collected in slots of magnetic strip cards. While RFID is greatly facilitating supply chain, production and traffic control systems, its data security and privacy still remain a concern.

Technology architecture: RFID uses electromagnetic fields to transmit encoded digital data from the tag to the reader in a high frequency range. The tags are encoded with an electronic product code, which is a universal identifier. The tags have a microchip to store and process object information and an antenna to exchange signals with the reader. RFID tags are electrically passive; they utilize the signal energy from the RF transciever to briefly power a circuit and transmit data with an integrated antenna. The card or transponder mounted on a vehicle can be read from a distance of up to 10 meters, in some cases.

Another Use of RFID in NFC: Near field communication (NFC) is a more complex technology within the RFID gamut and works on the same principle of electromagnetic fields, except that it works only in close proximity (few centimeters) of the reader. It is mainly used for contactless payments. Services like Apple Pay and Google Pay utilize NFC as the underpinning technology.

eBOL for supply chain efficiencies

Technology in focus: Built on a Blockchain-based or a Bolero-based platform, electronic bills of lading (eBOL) are set to replace the traditional paperwork involved in transportation. This touchless platform aims to build a more resilient supply chain.

Area of impact: A BOL is an important aspect of the logistics paperwork. It serves as an evidence of a contract, as a document of title of ownership and as a proof of receipt of goods. An eBOL streamlines the billing process and removes the bottlenecks associated with physical contact through papers and documents.

Industry influence: Logistics, particularly shippers, carriers, and freight brokers and drivers inf record keeping quite easy with electronic bills of lading (eBOL). However, for widespread use and application, there needs to be increased acceptance by the international market for a central intermediary, as well as legal integration across countries.

Technology architecture: Generally accepted as the only verified use of blockchain technology, eBOL relies on distributed ledger technology to record transactions. It works through an interconnectedness of unique blocks of data, called “hashes” that have their own identity. Hashes are unique combinations of letters and numbers and are connected with each other through unique identities called “hash pointers”.

Available in the form of application software, eBOL allows easy scan and upload of documents to cloud. As a format of electronic data interchange, eBOL facilitates barcode scanning, image capture and enhancements, translation of handwriting, and information integration with transportation management systems (TMS).

Voice control for touchless accessibility

Technology in focus: Voice recognition technology, built on natural language processing (NLP), is used for voice verification as well as managing tasks through voice commands. It works by recording a sample of voice from an individual’s speech and then digitizing it to create a unique template. Each spoken word is split into various segments that are comprised of multiple tones. This template is then matched with the voice received to carry out instructions.

Area of impact: Voice control has been marketed the last few years as the next best alternative to text-based actions, and this trend has only been accelerated by the pandemic. Used for answering queries, performing commands and operating devices, voice recognition has gained increased use for smart home control and in business and medical applications, such as for maintaining Electronic Health Records (EHR).

Industry influence: Juniper Research has estimated that 8.4 billion voice devices will be in use by 2024, with a majority of interactions through smartphones. Google Assistant, Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortana, Amazon Alexa, and Samsung Bixby are just some of the voice assistants being used globally, also providing a platform for innovators to build on.

Technology architecture: The voice device records a person’s speech through psychological and behavioral components: (1) Biometric speech technology is dependent on the wave form of voice sample to create a digitally unique imprint that is based on the shape of a person’s vocal tract (e.g., nose, mouth and larynx). (2) The behavioral component notes the person’s variations of physical movement (e.g. tongue, jaw) to record the change in accent, pace and pronunciation. This collective data forms a voice identity on the device.

This system is still being improved though, to account for the differences caused by a person’s physical and mental well-being. For example, a change in tone and voice due to having cold, or feeling excited. On the other end, innovative electronics are furthering the use of voice recognition technology. For example, real-time translation earphones that aim to counter language barriers, smart thermostats, Haiku’s home ceiling fans or fitness glasses with built-in earbuds.

Face recognition for digital identification

Technology in focus: Artificial intelligence and machine learning are powering face recognition of individuals. Scanning biometric data and recording on a secure system is often the first step. As more and more data is fed into the algorithm, the devices are able to build complete pictures of people and objects, and start to recognize them accurately. Specific data is tagged and evaluated through 95% accurate models, to teach the machine for robust identification.

Area of impact: As devices are able to understand and recognize a user and identify them through cameras, physical contact is greatly reduced. This provides the much-needed protection as corporate environments start to bring the workforce and customers back. Facial recognition has found multiple uses for identification at airports, schools and colleges, restricted areas, retail stores, and even for marketing and advertising purposes and phone unlocking.

Industry influence: According to a report published by Global Industry Analysts, the biometric market is expected to reach $22.7 billion by 2027 from its current $7.2 billion in 2020. Truly, digital identification has received a push from the current ongoing pandemic, although concerns on data security and legal usage need to be addressed.

Technology architecture: The face recognition terminals or handheld devices use visual geometry to record images, which means it notes the relationship between a person’s eyes, brows, nose, mouth and other features. These images are analyzed by devices to create an outline of the face called a bounding box. This analysis results into creation of object notation numbers to indicate the position of the main elements of the face. When running a face search, the technology compares concurrent data with source images to assign a similarity score and determine the accuracy of the match.

Looking Forward

The pandemic has redefined priorities for organizations and individuals alike. In our new health and safety conscious world, touchless interfaces are key to gaining customer trust and improving customer experiences.

RFID systems have been in popular use for the last few years, but the pandemic has accelerated their usage trend today. Also, with the COVID-19 era, facial recognition and voice control electronics are expected to be adopted even further than current use. As for eBOL, COVID-19 has changed the perspective towards it as an emerging necessity.

Expected to come into mainstream use are more technologies that provide contactless flexibility. For example, payments through wearable devices including smart watches, smart glasses and connected rings. Another example could be getting boarding passes printed through gestures, aimed to facilitate the aviation industry processes.

To contact the author of this article, email engineering360editors@globalspec.com


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