The coronavirus pandemic is forcing a reappraisal of much of the technology we use in public spaces and is also accelerating automation efforts in logistics and the supply chain; a recent report predicts the market for next-generation logistics systems in Japan is set to more than double to ¥651 billion from 2018 to 2025.

Businesses all over the world are contemplating how to reduce human contact in the manufacture, transport and retail of goods in order to minimise the possibility of infection, and how increased automation can fill the gaps left by fewer socially distanced employees.

The need for automation was already a pressing issue in Japan with its ageing population and labour shortages. Now as consumers increasingly turn to online buying and then worry about the risks of infection from items delivered to them, in the words of one Bloomberg Intelligence analyst quoted in Japan Times, “The incentives for automation have gone up.”

Major names, including online marketplace Rakuten and Fast Retailing, owner of fashion retailer Uniqlo, are actively addressing these issues.

Interactive screens, too, are having to be rethought. Regular cleaning of ordering screens in fast food outlets, for example, is a short-term fix. And that’s not even practical for outdoor and ambient media.

This is where we are likely to see more “touchless tech”, which could include greater use of voice technology, facial recognition, QR codes and apps.

New technology also replicates the touchscreen experience without people actually having to make contact. At The Drum’s Can-Do Festival last week, Anders Hakfelt of Ultraleap, a hand tracking and haptics company, outlined how such how a touch-free interface might feel for the user.

“By using ultrasound, you can create small points of very high sound pressure that you can move around in space,” he explained. “By essentially modulating it at a frequency you can feel in your hands, you can create a sense of touch that’s invisible.”

For brands seeking cut-through while also expressing social responsibility, this may be an interesting area to explore.  

Sourced from Japan Times, The Drum