The Covid pandemic impacted the lives of a worldwide population. It not only changed the way people interact with one another but also how they access goods and services. Millions of businesses—from Fortune 500 companies to mom-and-pop retailers—were forced to adapt to widespread shutdowns and develop new, high-quality multichannel platforms for safe as well as profitable sales and distribution of goods. Touchless technology was in demand.
Close-contact venues, like restaurants and small shops, were temporarily closed. As a result, owners were compelled to focus on e-commerce options like boosting website sales; developing consumer-friendly shopping apps; and implementing same-day, noncontact delivery services.
Once lockdown restrictions loosened and retailers reopened their doors, health-conscious shoppers continued using low-contact options to interact with products and services more safely.
Accenture, an international consulting, technology and operations company, surveyed more than 25,000 consumers, across 22 countries, about how the pandemic changed their attitudes. Fifty percent said it caused them to reevaluate what’s important to them. An even larger percentage, 63%, said it’s crucial that companies/brands actively promote healthy practices.
According to the company’s recent study, Life Reimagined: Mapping the Motivations That Matter for Today’s Consumers: “Consumers are highly attuned to the health and safety of any experience. The fact is, people everywhere have become safety-obsessed. They want to be confident that every business will strive to be part of a health-oriented ecosystem that can overlay their lives.
“We found that a majority of the Reimagined—and even a sizable portion of traditional consumers, would switch to another brand if their health and safety needs were not addressed.”
The Healthy Kiosk Revolution and Touchless Technology
In response to this new emphasis on maintaining a more healthy workplace, traditionally low-tech businesses—from hotels and restaurants to car dealerships—began using self-service kiosks to reduce direct contact with staff. Other businesses turned to highly targeted experiential marketing to reach out to new customers.
However, both of these techniques were in use by the photo industry for decades to promote photo printing, display and personalized products. The photofinishing industry led the way in both interactive kiosks and online sales as far back as the late 1990s.
Since the onset of Covid-19, entrepreneurial tech companies all over the world have developed high-tech, low-contact kiosks for nearly every retail and public environment. The goal: to keep customers safe.
ImageHolders, a UK-based developer of high-tech business solutions, designs and retrofits kiosks with a range of safety devices. These may include barcode/QR scanners; hand sanitizer dispensers; fever-detection cameras; as well as touchless gesture control.
Furthermore, a hand-tracking camera made by the British company Ultraleap, of Mountain View, California, powers, Imageholder’s gesture-controlled kiosk. The Ultraleap module captures movements of the users’ hands and fingers, so they can type, select, scroll and navigate the kiosk display using midair gestures. All without having to touch the screen.
The controller is also capable of tracking hands within a three-dimensional interactive zone extending up to 30 inches from the device, in a 170º×170º field of view. The software discerns 27 distinct hand elements; for instance, bones and joints. It tracks them even when they are obscured by other parts of the hands.
Hands-free technologies from ImageHolders and other kiosk developers are perfect for event photographers. These pros face a special challenge maintaining healthy, limited-contact operations; after all, the nature of a photo booth is to bring together people in a small space.
In addition, Simple Booth, a technology company based in Austin, Texas, introduced its gesture-based photo booth solution in 2021. The HALO system integrates custom capture and printing hardware with an intuitive iPad app and a customizable online social platform to host customers’ photos.
The start screen on the HALO photo booth system instructs customers to hold up a single hand to start the countdown to exposure. Once the image is captured, subsequent hand gestures, tracked by the system’s camera, allow customers to keep or retake each photo. Scanning a QR code imports the images onto their mobile phones.
The HALO system’s web platform also helps photographers plan, design and manage their scheduled events; host customers’ photos in self-branded galleries; capture leads; obtain real-time analytics; and track marketing performance.
Photographers can even project a live feed during events. Image views and engagement are tracked using a unique short URL for each photo. It also includes shares to Facebook and Twitter. What’s more, the iPad app provides tools to manage basic settings and network connectivity at an event.
Austin-based HootBooth Photo Booth employs a different approach to hands-free operation in its EventPro DSLR photo booths for professional event photographers. Each photo booth includes a USB-connected foot pedal to start the photo session—with or without an attendant present.
The software’s facial recognition technology (optional printer required) automatically prints the correct number of images for each guest.
Those who would like a digital image on-site can easily scan a QR code at the booth with their phone to receive images via e-mail or text.
In addition to conventional photos, EventPro photographers can offer their clients more advanced features; for example, green screen removal, animated GIFs, slow motion video, face morphing, green screen video, green screen animated GIFs, and hashtag printing.
The EventPro software also shares digital images on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
Virtual Photo Booths
Chic Booth is a luxury photo booth rental agency with offices in Florida and Texas. The company built its reputation serving high-profile clients such as Mercedes, Lexus and Ritz-Carlton. As the pandemic forced many of their customers to start hosting virtual events, Chic Booth introduced a fully customizable, virtual photo booth. This not only allowed the company to continue providing branded photo booth services but also expand their reach to a worldwide customer base.
The Chic Booth virtual booth doesn’t require an app or special location to photograph event participants. Clients simply specify when they want their virtual booth available online and the Chic crew customizes the experience to match the client’s brand or theme. It provides everything from personalized templates for the photos to digital backdrops.
Once the photo booth is activated, participants use their own capture devices to take digital photos or GIFs. The system then incorporates the images into the client’s print templates. Moreover, AI background removal (if desired) replaces the subject’s background with the client’s themed design.
Other services include Boomerang videos (a burst of photos that plays back and forth to create a video loop); competitions; photo vetting; analytics; online galleries; as well as social sharing.
Holography: The Ultimate Touchless Experience
Another exciting technology paving the way to touchless sales is interactive holography. The technology is now integrated into multiple kiosk systems. Holo Industries of Cottage Grove, Oregon, developed its interactive Holographic Touch kiosk in partnership with ASKA3D, a U.S. division of Asukanet Co. Japan.
The booth’s touch operation panel is projected above a plastic ASKA3D-Plate. It creates a colorful, detailed aerial interface that corresponds exactly to the operating positions of controls on the instrument panel. By employing the Holographic Touch interface, users can pinch, scroll, spin and manipulate objects in midair. They essentially operate the controls with holographic images.
How does it work? Holographic technologies historically projected video onto film or steam to create 3D illusions. However, those techniques only allowed the viewer to see the images, not interact with them.
The ASKA3D-Plate lets users “disrupt” the projected images via their hands. By integrating the interactive ASKA3D-Plate with infrared (IR) sensors, plus other software and hardware components, Holo created a disruptive holographic technology that provides a true, responsive, kiosk user interface. Customers can access the data and images; manipulate them; order products; as well as sign their names. All without using special lighting, glasses or headgear.
“Contactless and germ-free Holographic Touch is the ideal solution for a post-pandemic world,” Holo asserts. “Midair interaction also means there’s no surface smudges or cleanup required.”
Users can also integrate Holo’s products into modules or existing countertops and wall units. Kiosk developers can create their own programs or simply connect the modules to terminals or CPUs and instantly display holographic images or videos.
While the photofinishing industry led the way in interactive kiosks and online sales in the 1990s, it’s clear it continues to innovate in today’s challenging post-pandemic retail environment.