From apps that place dining orders and mobile devices that open handle-less building doors to intelligent lockers for mailroom package pickup and alternative ways of activating classroom AV, options abound for colleges looking to reduce the need for one-on-one contact and the prevalence of having to touch shared surfaces.
While the purchase of touchless technology isn’t front-and-center in campus reopening plans, leaders at higher ed institutions are seeking such approaches for every corner of campus—and those with solutions already in place could open up this year with greater peace-of-mind.
“There is a great deal of interest in going more contactless,” says Gary Link, chief business development officer at E&I Cooperative Services, the member-owned nonprofit purchasing cooperative serving education. Since the pandemic shut campuses down, members have reached out to E&I staff and vendors for products and services that can achieve efficiencies and also involve less or no contact, Link adds.
Touchless vs. contactless
– The word touchless is more likely to be used as related to an object that can be activated without touching its surface.
– The term contactless is used more often in relation to process that avoids person-to-person contact.
Some alternatives to high-touch surfaces and face-to-face services are more readily available from higher ed providers than others. With classroom technology, a long-time objective has been “the idea of walking into a classroom and—bam!—everything turns on,” says Keith Fowlkes, vice president of the technology category for E&I and former CIO at three higher ed institutions, most recently Centre College in Kentucky. Touchless AV has been a concept for many years, but development has been slow, offerings are costly, and connections are not 100% reliable, he says. “I know a lot of people looking at touchless AV. I know even more who are wondering how they can pay for it.”
Instead, the main pandemic discussion among higher ed AV teams has been how to best clean touchscreens and cover devices with materials that won’t transmit infection as easily, he says. “It’s expensive to move to all touchless AV.”
Regardless of cost, campus leaders are certainly thinking a lot about ways to make life involve less contact with surfaces and people, as COVID is here for now and will impact future behaviors. The below graphic shows how and where such items and services are cropping up on campus.