The COVID-19 pandemic is changing how we interact with each other and with collaborative technologies such as touch tables and large displays. While some people do use our hardware on an individual basis, most use multitouch hardware in social or shared settings. This, of course, poses a health risk, but that risk can be mitigated in a few simple ways.
In our series on touchless interaction, we looked at employing new and alternative technologies. (We are still working on another installment for that series.) This short post focuses on three simple ways you can interact more safely with a touch screen.
Clean your screen. Early in the pandemic, we posted about the proper ways to clean and disinfect your touch table or large touch display. Obviously, this is both simple and inexpensive. It helps in any situation, but cleaning by itself is not enough for multitouch hardware that has many users, such as those devices found in museums and other public places.
Wear gloves. All of our touch tables and displays work just as well with gloves as they do with bare hands. It is important to have good fitting nitrile or latex gloves. (Thick gloves or work gloves don’t work well.) Of course, gloves work only in settings where there are just a few users. Also, the gloves don’t really stop the virus (you can’t get it through your hands), but they do remind you not to touch your face. Our staff who build and support our hardware frequently wear nitrile gloves.
Use a stylus. A simple conductive stylus is probably the easiest and safest way to interact with most applications on touch tables and displays. We’ve found that not all styluses work with the projected-capacitive touch technology that we use (from 3M and Zytronic), so you may need to need to try a few. We found that bigger styluses work well, such as the elago Premium Aluminum Stylus and the BoxWave Thick Kids Stylus, which are effective for selection, dragging, and even drawing.
Styluses are safe in just about any setting, private or public. Museums and other public spaces could look to obtain inexpensive branded styluses as a way to allow visitors to safely interact with touch-based exhibits. While a stylus does allow visitors to make selections, a single stylus won’t allow for pinch and zoom, and some other gestures won’t be supported. However, a stylus can be a workable solution for most applications.
It is possible that the stylus could carry the virus, but the likelihood of transmission via stylus would likely be remote, especially if visitors use their own styluses. A number of companies produce this kind of “swag” (usually for trade shows). Styluses are often combined with pens (a bad idea for public spaces), but there are a few stylus-only products, many costing only a dollar or two. Museums could easily offer these as takeaways, branded reminders of a visit. Another benefit: if they are given to visitors to keep, museums won’t need to disinfect them for future use.
In addition to these safeguards, another possible approach is to apply an antimicrobial film or glass layer on top of the display. This is more complex than the items listed above; we are exploring additional possibilities along these lines and will post another update soon.