Tuesday, 08 December 2020 14:47

Contactless Technology and COVID-19 – A Perfect Match?

    The rise of the ‘contactless society’ was already accelerating before the coronavirus became commonplace, but COVID-19 has provided an opportunity to rethink how we live, move and meet, says Paul Smith, Head of Specification Sales at Häfele.

    Now much more than simply an interesting design feature, hands-free technologies can play a vital role in keeping communities safe, with fixtures and fittings able to minimise touchpoints to protect the health of a building’s occupants.

    Across residential, commercial and leisure settings, steps must be made to integrate features which don’t just facilitate COVID-secure environments, but which complement the contactless society that looks set to dominate the future, and which also taps into upcoming design trends.

    In the hotel industry, operators are looking at how they can reduce the number of interactions guests have with staff and other people around a building, as well as surfaces and doors. In response, manufacturers have introduced automated controls, which can reduce the spread of COVID-19, and enable a more efficient, high-tech experience.

    Advanced door and furniture locking systems, such as Dialock from Häfele, have Bluetooth connectivity making it possible to activate them with third-party smartphone apps to act as a digital key. As well as enabling a user to lock and unlock doors to their room, gym lockers and furniture, they also tie into hotel management platforms to allow a guest to book a room, purchase goods, check-in, check-out and pay, all done digitally. During a time when the global pandemic has made people more aware of the number of touchpoints and surfaces they share with other people, this technology is enabling hotels to offer their guests greater reassurance, without missing out on the key elements of their stay.

    Settings that offer a variety of communal spaces – such as offices with reception areas, shared working areas, meeting rooms, leisure amenities and cafeterias – are increasingly being broken up to facilitate smaller numbers of people, so they can benefit from using remote access door technology, particularly systems which work together with automatic sliding or swinging door systems. Used in conjunction with flow control technology, a space can automatically limit the number of people using it at any one time, helping people to maintain social distancing.

    Furthermore, automatic orientation lighting, such as Gira’s Sensotec, features motion sensors which will switch lights on and off, dependent on when a room is in use. Not only does it improve convenience and efficiencies, but operators are able to work with a sleek and sophisticated piece of technology.

    Other furniture lighting systems, such as Loox by Häfele, can also be app-controlled to allow a user to change the colour and brightness of a room, depending on their mood, time of day or activity. Lighting strips can be integrated into fitted furniture to save space and create an ambient, premium look, but offer the added benefit of a remote control function, via a smartphone. If used in a hotel, for example, it would reduce the number of times a guest has to touch multiple switches, creating a truly contactless experience which will also minimise the spread of bacteria.

    While it’s important to make buildings COVID-secure, operators must ensure other elements of safety aren’t being neglected. Wedging doors open may improve ventilation and facilitate contactless movement around a hotel or residential tower, for example, but many of these will be life-critical doors. If they are held open without the correct products in place to close them in the case of a fire, it poses a huge risk. Electromagnetic hold-open door closers keep doors open in a safe and compliant manner until an alarm is triggered. From that point, a sensor cuts the power to the door, ensuring it automatically closes, providing a barrier to the spread of fire without the need for human intervention.

    COVID-19, without doubt, has contributed to the acceleration in contactless access technologies, but several manufacturers had begun bringing them to market way before 2020. Across various environments – hotels, serviced apartments, office, student accommodation and more – there will be an urgent need to review the fit-out of spaces to reduce cross-contamination on touchpoints, but to also create designs which will be relevant long after the pandemic has passed.

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