By the time a COVID-19 vaccine is approved and distributed, we could have a year or more of social distancing protocol baked into our everyday interactions. It isn’t far-fetched to believe that various cultures will adopt their own form of namaste that lives beyond the pandemic that engendered it. In fact, social distancing may become the rule rather than the exception, creating a surge for contactless technologies and procedures. 

As we enter into a phased approach to re-socializing, we may uncover the benefits of increasingly contactless approaches to transacting and interacting.

The Intersection of Personal and Business Distancing

Many individuals had full control over their environments and interactions during shelter-in-place orders and advisories. But as we return to work and begin to patronize businesses, personal and professional boundaries may collide.

Here are a few of the leading solutions that can help us navigate this new territory, allowing us to interact with caution when necessary, and avoid it when possible.

  • Proximity bracelets: Social distancing will remain one of the most important – but also the most difficult to enforce – policies, spurring some companies to take a digital approach. An example is Ford’s testing of proximity bracelets, which buzz if workers get too close. As always, the underlying data logged by the devices holds even more value. Not only can repeat offenders be identified, but if an employee tests positive for COVID-19, anyone who was recently within six feet of that person can be notified, as well. The bracelet borrows from contact tracing applications but without the widespread privacy concerns and issues with adoption rates.
  • Digital wallets and payments: So far, the convenience of Apple Pay, Google Pay for Android and tap-to-pay has not overcome the sheer habit of pulling out cash or plastic. But as we move forward, adoption will rise, making payments not just safer but also faster and more efficient. In addition to business uses, this technology can also be applied to public transit systems, ATMs, events, etc.
  • Robots in support roles: The potential of robotics is vast; consider their use for disinfection and routine tasks in hospitals to keep staff safe and more available for patient care. However, the high cost of this technology poses a challenge for ROI. To justify the cost outlay, robots need to be designed for a wide variety and high volume of uses, which the pandemic clearly provides.
  • LiDAR crowd density detection: Rather than individuals needing to police the social distancing of those around them. LiDAR (light detection and ranging), long known for its autonomous vehicle applications, is being adapted for crowd congestion. For example, many of the U.S.’s largest airports are already using this technology for crowd control and will be able to take advantage of new crowd density analysis features to alert TSA if hot spots or lines exceed social distancing measures. 
  • Beacon technology: In the location-based technology space, beacons will have an even bigger impact on consumer communication. While the LiDAR concept above is designed to provide alerts to internal security and management teams, beacons (known for their use with mobile apps) can be used to deliver push notifications.

    For example, grocery retailers could send an alert to app users saying, “In-store traffic is light right now. Get your shopping done in a flash.” Or event centers could send a notification to ticket holders saying, “Parking lots are 80% full. See a list of nearby drop-off locations.” (Naturally, there would be an affiliate discount code for dockless vehicles on-screen after the user opens the notification.)

  • Heat detection sensors: By flagging individuals with an elevated body temperature, organizations can improve early detection of illness as well as identify those who are out of compliance with health guidelines. This technology would work best in settings like schools and workplaces where temperature can be monitored over time. Applications in certain settings such as public transportation will have a longer adoption timeline, as they raise challenges like false flags and enforcement.
  • Driverless and contactless delivery: The use of drone delivery, drones as-a-service, driverless vehicles, autonomous pick/pack/ship warehouses and RFID/NFC tags for shipment tracking will rise, while remote work and “leave at the door” policies will remain in place. Commercial autonomous vehicles (AV) will also help address the driver shortage in the trucking industry and help companies meet delivery deadlines without pushing drivers past their limits.
  • Autonomous vehicles: In addition to commercial AV for supply chain transportation, the rideshare category will also benefit from the accelerated adoption of driverless technology. This will directly affect the user experience of passengers and other drivers on the road, and will lead to new laws and policies in the transportation industry, as well as related industries like insurance.

This is merely a glance at the low-hanging fruit of contactless technology, and the list should grow over time. In fact, this doesn’t include perhaps the largest category: remote workplace technology and virtual educational environments such as videoconferencing, virtual private networks, drawing boards, AR/VR, etc.

Creating a Culture of Safety, Online and Offline

As the use of contactless technology increases, so will new security challenges. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from “Zoombombing” and other unwelcome online activity, security needs to be part of the DNA of contactless solutions.

This counts double for IoT-enabled solutions. Contactless technology will transcend the otherwise distinct Internet of Things markets (consumer, buildings and industrial, and connected vehicles), making the protection of the data exchanged between connected devices more complex than ever.

The goal of contactless technology is to create not a culture of distance but a culture of safety. As we minimize unnecessary interactions – even something as innocent as going into the office each day or a visit to the doctor – we can ultimately gain more time to interact with the ones we love and do so in better health.

Visit our COVID-19 resources page for additional insights and updates.

Prasad Satyavolu

Prasad Satyavolu

Prasad Satyavolu is the Chief Digital Officer and Consulting Leader of Cognizant’s Manufacturing, Logistics, Energy and Utilities business unit. He is responsible... Read more