The pandemic situation has focused people’s minds on hygiene and the many ways in which infections can be transmitted. Viruses like COVID-19 can survive on surfaces for extended periods, so it’s important to keep things clean and sterile and avoid touching them as much as possible.
Obviously this is a challenge when it comes to interacting with our digital world: we have become accustomed to touch-sensitive interfaces to do our banking, buy items like groceries or travel tickets, access buildings and work areas, and control machines of all types, from simple appliances like coffee makers or office equipment, to complex industrial automation.
Touchscreen technology has been a huge success, delivering easy usability as we tap, swipe, and flick naturally and intuitively through options presented on the screen. They are also easier to wipe clean than traditional keypads, switch panels, knobs and buttons. Now, however, we need to go further as many people are feeling more concerned about cleanliness than ever. We can make touchscreens safer using anti-microbial treatments, which can be applied during manufacture or retrospectively, or by implementing touchless gesture controls.
How Does Anti-Bacterial Glass Work?
Anti-bacterial, or anti-microbial, glass is treated with a special coating that has bacteriostatic and sterilising properties. It is a nano-silver formula, applied at manufacture by immersion and subsequent high-temperature sintering. The ensures the anti-microbial property is baked into the glass and will last for the lifetime of the product. In principle, the positively charged silver ions penetrate the negatively charged microbes by adsorption and disrupt their respiratory and reproductive processes. This inhibits growth and ultimately destroys micro-organisms on the glass surface.
Anti-microbial glass has extremely good optical properties, achieving over 90% transmittance. Moreover, other coatings such as anti-fingerprint and anti-glare can be applied without compromising anti-microbial action.
Anders is working with suppliers of anti-microbial glass and are ready to integrate this solution into next-generation systems using touchscreen interfaces that will combine enhanced safety with all the traditional benefits of today’s slick, colourful, graphical user interfaces.
How Can Existing Screens be Made Safer?
For products already in production, or devices in circulation, an anti-bacterial coating can be applied to a glass screen protector, using film or tempered glass. The protector is then adhered to the underlying screen. One example using tempered glass is from Kastus® whose anti-microbial coating is a patented light activated technology that is also independently proven by a leading US lab to be effective against human coronavirus.
The KastusⓇ surface coating is continuously activated by natural light to produce an always on ‘cloud’ of reactive oxygen species (ROS) that effectively ‘bash’ the bacteria until destroyed. Thanks to further patented ingredients it is also effective in dark environments.
This protection permanently blocks 99.9% of resistant bacteria for the lifetime of the product yet allows full PCAP touchscreen functionality.
Anti-microbial treatments are highly effective, although the screen cannot be “seen” to be safe. For some, avoiding contact altogether can provide that extra assurance. We can now create touchscreens that allow users to make “airTouch” and “airTap” gestures about 50mm above the surface. The technologies we can call upon ensure reliable hover and proximity measurements even under difficult conditions.
As well as promoting safety in these challenging times, choosing the right touchless gesture control solution brings extra benefits such as allowing thicker protective coverlenses, more predictable response for users wearing gloves, and greater resistance to electromagnetic interference. Also, users can revert to conventional touch at any time.
Should I Go Anti-Microbial or Touch-Free for the Safest User Interface?
Infections are transmitted through contact, both directly between people as well as indirectly by touching contaminated objects and surfaces. We know that touchscreens are easy to wipe clean– not to mention the many other advantages they offer – but right now a little extra safety assurance can go a long way.
Innovations such as anti-bacterial glass, which actively kills unwanted organisms, continuously clean and sterilise the screen’s surface. On the other hand, gesture control can deliver an inherently safe touch-free user experience.
Both approaches are viable and can help people return to feeling normal, doing normal things, while also feeling protected. Speak to us about how we can help create a safer user interface for your next project.
If you have any questions for Mike about any of the technologies discussed in this article, please email our subject matter expert at; Mike Logan M.Logan@andersdx.com.