Contactless technology: what is gesture computing?

One of the big trends in technology in the years to come is likely to be the development of user interfaces that allow customers to have contactless interactions with the products and services they use.

Additionally, spurred on by the need to find new ways to ensure a safe customer experience during the coronavirus pandemic, companies are eager to embrace new interfaces that help employees and customers work and play effectively. going beyond the traditional domain of 2D computing.

From automatic speech recognition to 3D eye tracking and gesture computing, companies are exploring how these technologies can be used to break addiction to touchscreens without compromising the quality of the customer experience.

Allow restaurant customers to order food without contact

According to Capgemini, companies recognize that touchless interfaces are integral to high-quality experiences. 75% of business leaders believe the growing customer appetite for non-touch practices will persist in the post-pandemic world.

In the world of physical shopping, for example, the removal of cashiers, and experiences like Amazon Go, are another example of this trend.

This move towards new forms of interaction is a trend that resonates with Mia Sorgi, director of digital products and experience at food and beverage giant PepsiCo Europe. His company recently carried out a gesture-based project allowing customers at a KFC restaurant to be served by moving their hand, without any contact.

“I think gesture is a very important emergent interface. I think this is something we will do more of in the future. I think it’s really valuable to understand how to operate in this space, and how to create things that people can use,” she says. While PepsiCo’s gesture-based project has received a boost during the pandemic, Mia Sorgi tells ZDNet that the company has been experimenting with touchless technology for three years.

The front-end application, developed by PepsiCo, took a year to develop and allows restaurant customers to order food. Customers stood in front of a kiosk and gestured in front of a menu. Hand-tracking technology interpreted gestures and created orders that were sent to the restaurant’s food ordering system.

Mia Sorgi’s team worked with fast-food specialist AmRest and tested the contactless system at a KFC restaurant in Poland. She also worked with the engineering agency Method and used gesture control technology from specialist company Ultraleap. The trial showed the benefits – and some of the problems – of contactless technology.

“The design around the gesture is still very difficult”

“It is increasingly reliable, and there are many ways to implement it. But it’s also important to recognize that the design around the gesture is still very difficult,” she says. The project was implemented in three phases. During the first phase, the team discovered how difficult it is to design a touchless menu that offers a user experience as good – if not better – than a traditional touch interface.

“It’s a technically complicated process, but in reality it’s a user experience issue,” says Mia Sorgi. “Will users accept it? Will they understand what they have to do? How do you modify the menu to reflect what they’re trying to achieve? Can you fit it all in? All of these things are uncharted territory. »

After a few months, Mia Sorgi’s team created what she calls a passable prototype. “It wasn’t perfect, it was still very tinkered with. But we said to ourselves that there was something, and that we had to continue, ”she says. This level of progress led to a second phase of development over the summer and fall of 2020. Here, the team tested the design with real users during a respite from the lockdowns.

The team then moved on to the third stage, a public trial. Due to the confinements, the three-week trial in the KFC restaurant in Poland could not start until June 2021. Mia Sorgi specifies that the technical problems were minor and were corrected thanks to the iterative development. She says service design is critical to the effectiveness of contactless technology, including telling people where to go and what to do.

“It’s a new experience,” she says. “Everyone wants to touch the screen because over the past 20 years we have taught people to touch screens. In 1990, no one would have touched the screen. People had to unlearn this behavior. »

Gesture technology can be ergonomically beneficial

In general, customers have a positive impression of contactless technology. “What we were able to show was that the system was working,” she notes. “And that wasn’t a completely safe assumption to make, given the complexity of the design challenge. »

One of the other things Mia Sorgi’s team discovered is that gesture technology can be ergonomically beneficial. “Having to reach out to press a touchscreen isn’t doing you a favor,” she explains. “Yes, you have feedback with your finger, but if you can successfully communicate that a choice has been made contactless, it’s a bit easier to use than a touchscreen – provided that the cameras capture the gesture. »

The research suggests other companies should be conducting similar experiments. Deloitte goes so far as to suggest that the most important factor What differentiates the coronavirus crisis from previous ones is the rise of the contactless economy.

While PepsiCo’s initial trial is now over, Mia Corgi says work on the project continues. “What PepsiCo has learned is that a gesture-based interface is viable in a commercial setting. In a busy fast food environment, this is a viable option to pursue. This technology will become more and more mainstream as people master the design and technologies,” she predicts.

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Contactless technology: what is gesture computing?

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