Amid Covid-19 crisis, firms coming up with tech solutions to go contactless

One such touch-free innovation has been developed by elevator and escalator manufacturer Kone
Picture this. You approach an elevator in a high-rise, but instead of pressing the button to call a lift, you merely type in your start and destination floors on an app on your phone. In other words, you can enter and leave the elevator without touching any of part of it.

In the post-Covid world, technology is coming up with solutions to minimise the necessity of touching surfaces in public places and thereby reducing our chances of catching the highly infectious coronavirus.

One such touch-free innovation has been developed by elevator and escalator manufacturer Kone. Its Elevator Remote Call feature using WhatsApp, cuts out the need to touch elevator buttons. The company has also come up with Kone Handrail Sanitiser, a cleaning solution that uses a type of ultraviolet light (UV-C) to disinfect escalator handrails.

“In the prevailing Covid-19 environment, interacting with everyday surroundings will be challenging. As we ease out of lockdowns and re-enter public buildings, we need to come to terms with the ‘new normal’ with complete certainty,” said Amit Gossain, MD, Kone Elevators India.

Otis, another manufacturer of elevators, escalators and moving walkways, has also developed several technologies to go touchless. The Bluetooth-enabled Otis eCall app enables passengers to use their cell phones as their personal elevator call button. The company has also developed a CompassPlus destination dispatching system, which assigns passengers travelling to nearby floors to the same car. This minimises the number of stops  per trip, reduces car crowding and decreases travel time. 

 

Similarly, Johnson Lifts, another elevator manufacturer, has created a smart phone app called EyeRIS, which connects the user’s smartphone to the lift system by QR code technology. The user operates the lift by indicating the “present floor” and the “destination floor” on the app. This ensures that no lift buttons need to be pressed, said V Jagannathan, executive director of Johnson Lifts.

The company has also designed and installed foot-operated lift calling systems in the Chennai Metro. 

But it is not just elevator companies that are using tech to come up with touch-less solutions. Those in the automobile and financial sectors, quick-service restaurants as well as hospitality and online food delivery majors are also going contactless to save customers from the risk of touching surfaces in public places.

Most companies have also done away with finger/thumb based biometric scanners and access card-based employee attendance systems and replaced them with facial recognition or voice-based systems. 

Chennai-based ERP and HR software maker Ramco Systems has taken this a notch higher by deploying thermal screening and an IoT-based door sensor technology. Its product, RamcoGEEK, is already operational at its office in Singapore, as well as on its clients’ premises globally. The product marks employee attendance only after they pass the thermal screening, while it restricts those with high temperature and issues automated leave applications on their behalf to the management.

Automaker Maruti Suzuki India Limited has introduced contactless deliveries across all its showrooms. The company has digitised 21 processes out of 28 touch points of the customers’ buying journey from the time they walk into a showroom to the time the vehicle is delivered. Customers can explore the entire product portfolio online and electronically personalise cars by mixing and matching accessories. All the documents for purchasing a vehicle can also be submitted online.

Maruti is also offering doorstep delivery, while ensuring that the staff who deliver the vehicle follow all necessary safety protocols and the vehicle is fully disinfected before delivery. The company also encourages its customers to avail of the safety and convenience of doorstep services such as ‘Service on Wheels’ and ‘Pick up and Drop’.

In fact, Maruti’s entire service processes are going contactless. These include online booking platforms, online approval of job card, electronic invoicing, web-based capturing of customers’ post-service feedback and digital payment. It has also introduced a digital service manual. 

In the hospitality sector, ITC Hotels has come up with contactless initiatives such as e-payment options during check-in and check-out, welcome separators between guest and associates at the reception and QR code-enabled ordering at the restaurants. Restaurant layouts have also been altered with Welcome Separators between tables, and also in salons and gyms.

Banking is another sector which is rapidly deploying contactless technologies to eliminate physical touch points. Indian Bank, for example, is making the process of application and sanction of loans online and is also conducting interactions with customers through videoconferencing and other electronic channels. The public sector lender is in the process of issuing only NFC-enabled RuPay debit cards, to make sure that customers embrace contactless banking fully, its MD and CEO, Padmaja Chundru, said.

Most players in the banking space are looking at making the withdrawal and payments system as contactless as possible. According to Sathish N, deputy chief product officer at payments technology and transaction processing company FSS, Covid-19 has accelerated the move towards contactless processes for everyday transactions. “The implementation and wide adoption of contactless solutions globally and in India is a function of the readiness of the banking infrastructure,” he said.

FSS works with multiple banks globally and in India to enable Wave and Pay transactions for Visa, Amex, MasterCard as well as Rupay cards. It is also offering solutions for agent banking, which equip agents and neighbourhood merchant stores with micro ATMs for contactless banking and ATM withdrawals.

FSS eFinclusiv 2.0, which was launched by the company in April with added support for UPI, India’s instant payment scheme, has done away with the need for carrying a physical card. Customers can visit authorised agent outlets and initiate a withdrawal by entering the UPI virtual private address and PIN. Another payment product, FSS Mobile Pay (mPay), also supports card-less and contactless withdrawals at ATMs.

A recent industry report by Juniper Research said global contactless transaction values would shoot up from $2 trillion in 2020 to $6 trillion by 2024.

‘Contactless’ is also the buzzword in the food delivery space. For example, Swiggy has enabled the ‘no-contact’ delivery of food, grocery and essentials. According to a company spokesperson, customers from tier-2 and tier-3 cities are also increasingly opting for ‘no-contact’ deliveries.

As lockdowns ease across India, some restaurants are offering contactless dine-in options. Pizza Hut is one such, where the entire dine-in process — from accessing the menu through QR codes to making payments — is being digitised. Besides, ordering stations and seating have been re-aligned to maintain social distancing norms at all times.

“The hesitation about dining out will soon be replaced by cautious visits to malls and restaurants, and contactless dine-in will be the centrepiece of the casual dining experience at quick-service chains,” said Neha Dk, marketing director at Pizza Hut India.


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