A visitor's hand hovers and gestures over an Ideum Touchless Pedestal to control an interactive display (not shown).

by Jim Spadaccini, Founder November 2nd, 2020

Update 11/10/20: Please visit Touchless Pedestal II product page to learn about the latest version.

Since we first introduced Touchless Design back in July, there have been some exciting developments. First, there are some new alternatives. Freetouch is a system that allows visitors to use their smartphones to connect and control touchscreens. In addition, UltraLeap, the maker of Leap Motion, has released TouchFree, a “touch emulation” system that detects a user’s hand in mid-air to allow for touchless interaction.

In this post, I will explain a bit more about how these systems work and how they compare to Touchless Design software. I will also provide a sneak peek at Touchless Design 2.0—which will be out in less than a week!

Using Smartphones as Touch Pads
Freetouch is an intriguing piece of software developed by our friends at Stimulant, an experience design agency in San Francisco. The software essentially turns a visitor’s smartphone into a virtual touchpad. They can then move their cursor on the phone and interact without contact with a touch application. Visitors use a QR code to make the connection between their smartphone and the kiosk or touch screen.

One advantage of this system is that the museum or venue doesn’t need additional hardware. This is a cloud-based software service that can be easily set up. It also allows for pinch and zoom, which is not available in current touchless offerings. Right now the system allows for single user on a one-screen system, but in talking with the folks from Freetouch, multiscreen support and multiuser support are in the works.

We tried the system on one of our Drafting Touch Tables and found it fairly simple to install and use. We just took a quick look and did not do extensive testing, so I would recommend you try it out for yourself. We will be looking more closely at Freetouch in the next couple of weeks. Pricing is based on a subscription model, with discounts for nonprofits. You can download a demo, and the download page also includes a list of frequently asked questions.

Of course, like all of these contactless systems, visitors need to understand how to connect and get set up, so some kind of onboarding step is required. Freetouch is also dependent on visitors having a smartphone (although these devices are nearly ubiquitous these days).

Touch Emulation vs. Mouse Emulation
TouchFree is a touch-emulation system that was recently announced by UltraLeap. The software is free (it does require a Leap Motion device) and is easy to set up. Visitors interact by breaking an invisible barrier. The software settings allow TouchFree to be set for either “air push” or “hover & hold.”

Three side-by-side images of 21

Because it uses touch-emulation, this system works well with small displays. We ran it on a 21” display successfully. We didn’t determine the potential maximum size of a monitor for the system, but Leap Motion’s documentation states that their “3D interactive zone” extends 24” (60cm), so it seems likely that screens larger than the interactive zone would not be fully functional.

The cursor colors with the application that we tried didn’t really stand out, but those can be changed in the settings. As with Freetouch, some sort of signage or onboarding is likely necessary to let visitors know how the system works, but all of the touchless technologies mentioned here require that kind of introduction. Still, for small monitors, the system works well, and in fact it seems easier to get started with touch-emulation, as mouse-emulation takes a bit of practice at first.

Touchless Design 2.0 Preview
A major new release for Touchless Design will drop next week, on November 10. Version 2.0 of Touchless Design software includes a new onboarding feature, a configurator setup allowing users to change a wide variety of settings, and a UDP feature that allows the touchless hardware to be set up via a network connection.

The onboarding feature runs visitors through a simple set of animated screens to familiarize them with the mouse-emulation touchless system. This feature can be turned off in the configuration settings. These new settings also allow for a variety of configuration changes to everything from the touchless tracking to secondary display settings and LED lighting controls. We will cover these new features in depth in the November press release and blog post on the release.

The new release of Touchless Design will correspond to the release of our Touchless Pedestal II. The new Touchless Pedestal uses the UDP feature in Touchless Design, allowing it to connect either wired or wirelessly to a network. The Touchless Pedestal II has an onboard Intel® NUC Compute Elements i3 with 4GB RAM. We will share more about this new and improved device in our next update.

In comparison to the other offerings mentioned here, Touchless Design used in tandem with the Touchless Pedestal offers a flexible and powerful solution for large-scale installations. It also solves a pre-COVID problem of making direct interaction with large video walls, tile walls, and projection environments maximally effective and intuitive.

Conclusion
Finally, it is exciting to see (and to be part of) the creation of new possibilities for touchless interaction. Like most complex problems, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for the current situation: the best solution will depend on the context in which the system is used. With the pandemic looking very much like it will continue to be a factor in 2021, all of these solutions will, unfortunately, have more time to develop. We will keep you informed as we see how these solutions are adopted and used and the refinements and improvements that are incorporated in the coming months.