There is no doubt that the COVID-19 COVID-19 epidemic has brought about many changes in our lives. One of the most important changes is the distance between people and people. Because based on the requirements of epidemic prevention, only maintaining sufficient social distance and reducing or even avoiding direct “contact” between people is the key to cutting off the virus transmission chain.

However, human beings are social animals after all. With the development of society, the relationship and interaction between people have become more and more. In order to maintain the normal operation of the whole society, there must be a way to bridge the sense of distance caused by “inaccessibility”. “Contactless technology” came into being.

In fact, contactless technology is not a single technology, but uses comprehensive intelligent technical means to achieve such a goal: to ensure that a service or interaction (such as transaction) can be carried out normally, or even with higher efficiency and lower cost under the condition of reducing human contact as much as possible.

From the above definition, it is not difficult to see that the essence of contactless technology is an automatic (or intelligent) process. In short, it is to let the machine do what people need to do before, so as to reduce the density of people gathering or the frequency of contact.

There have been many such technology attempts before, such as the unpopular store that prevailed a few years ago. However, at that time, the motivation to explore this new unmanned and contactless application was mostly based on reducing cost and increasing efficiency; Now, due to the influence of COVID-19, health and epidemic prevention has become a new “rigid demand” that superimposed on the original demand. This provides new ideas and new business opportunities for the previous exploration, and has become a propellant for the development of contactless technology.

In the epidemic or post epidemic era, in which application scenarios will contactless technology take root? What enabling technologies will win new development opportunities? Now, let’s explore it together.

Logistics and distribution

In the past business processes, couriers were indispensable “media” for o2o services such as online shopping or takeout. Picking up, sorting, transportation, verification and delivery (including collection)… Were inseparable from their physical and intellectual labor. But under COVID-19, the nature of the work of the courier determines that it is more likely to be infected itself, and it may also become the “medium” of virus transmission. Therefore, the development of contactless logistics distribution schemes and products development of self-service express cabinet, vending machine and automatic delivery vehicle has also become a hot topic. Many of the former concepts are becoming reality.

In order to replace the role of couriers in the past, these contactless logistics and distribution schemes themselves need to simulate the function of “people” as much as possible. Taking a “fixed” self-service express cabinet / vending machine as an example, it needs to include at least the following functional modules:

  • HMI human-machine interface: information interaction between users
  • Identity authentication: verify and confirm the user’s identity
  • Mobile payment: supports common payment methods
  • Communication interconnection: data exchange with the cloud through wired or wireless networking

If it is a mobile distribution vehicle, UAV and other equipment, the needs of movement, navigation and obstacle avoidance should also be considered to ensure the safe and accurate delivery of goods. If this is in an open environment, the technical difficulty will be higher.

In general, the prospect of contactless logistics and distribution is promising. However, due to the relatively complex business processes and application scenarios, it will mainly focus on the exploration of prototypes and business models in the short term, which is still far from large-scale application. However, in this process, it will still play an important role in pulling high-performance application processors (such as processors supporting graphical HMI), wireless communication modules (including local and wide area connections), environmental sensors and other products and technologies.

Smart shopping

Offline shopping is a scene with high flow density and interaction frequency. The focus of contactless technology is mainly on shopping guide and payment.

The traditional shopping guide is completed by full-time employees of the merchant, including a comprehensive introduction to commodity information. Under the requirement of no contact, the product information can be associated with an NFC electronic label attached to the product. Customers can obtain relevant information and complete self-service shopping by touching the label with NFC mobile phone.

If you think the experience of NFC electronic tag is not cool enough, the immersive shopping guide based on AR technology may brighten your eyes. Whether it’s clothes selection and dressing or beauty makeup audition, an AR “magic mirror” can simulate the effect of customers’ actual wearing or makeup, and give selection suggestions according to the actual situation of customers, which can not only avoid direct contact with shopping guides, but also try more possibilities and have fun. Such a platform can not only deploy offline physical stores, but also evolve online apps. Because it can reshape the relationship between people, goods and stores in offline stores, it is quite subversive, so it is regarded as a new outlet.

In terms of payment, it is common for people to make contactless mobile payment based on QR code or NFC. However, both of them belong to the category of “near-field” payment. If you want to complete the payment over a longer distance, you need to introduce new technical solutions.

UWB UWB is an important candidate technology. Because it can provide centimeter level accurate and safe ranging and positioning, UWB can be used as a highly personalized and identifiable electronic tag. The settlement and payment terminal in the store can sense the proximity of customers with UWB electronic tag within one meter or more, and then the payment can be completed without manual intervention. The whole process does not need the hands of customers, which is almost complete “Take it and go”. Moreover, based on this label, more personalized contactless services can be derived in the retail industry, which has a huge imagination space.

Although RFID and vision solutions are also evolving in terms of contactless and non near-field intelligent payment, it is conceivable that UWB should penetrate faster in the payment field as it has become the standard configuration of more and more mobile phones.

crowd control

In traffic, security, intelligent buildings, public places and other scenes with a large flow of people, it is necessary to analyze, identify and control the flow of people passing by. The scheme developed for this purpose not only needs to be contactless to reduce human investment, but also needs to be reliable and efficient, otherwise there will be a gathering of people and bring hidden dangers of health and safety.

In the field of urban transportation, although NFC has been a commonly used access gate scheme, from the perspective of traffic efficiency and action distance, this technology still has limitations, and people flow congestion often occurs in the rush hour of commuting. Therefore, in recent years, people began to consider introducing UHF RFID technology, which has a longer working distance and used to monitor items, into the traffic gate. The specific method is to integrate HF (NFC) and UHF RFID technologies into the traffic card. The gate channel of this dual frequency card is usually open. As long as the gate detects the valid UHF credentials in the card, it will be released directly, Passengers can pass through the gate directly without swiping their cards, so as to increase the throughput in peak hours.

In terms of people flow management, machine vision is also an efficient solution, and with the improvement of hardware performance and software algorithms, especially the introduction of machine learning, it has developed rapidly. Machine vision can not only support the brush face authentication of a single object, but also quickly capture and recognize multiple human face targets in a large traffic environment. On this basis, coupled with remote contactless IR temperature measurement technology, a complete set of epidemic flow management solutions can be formed.

In privacy sensitive scenes, the application of vision schemes may be limited. At this time, millimeter wave radar sensor is a good alternative technology. Although it is impossible to obtain intuitive images, millimeter wave radar sensors can sense high-precision data and information such as the direction, speed, distance and position of moving objects, and even capture subtle actions such as breathing and heartbeat without contact, which enables intelligent devices to obtain more sharp and space-apart “insight”.

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Anfuli gesture recognition scheme based on radar sensor

human-computer interaction

The reduction of human contact means that people have more opportunities to deal with machines (intelligent products). Therefore, in all contactless schemes, natural and efficient human-computer interaction (HMI) has become the focus.

At present, the mainstream graphical HMI based on touch screen still cannot avoid different users using the same HMI device, resulting in indirect contact. Therefore, two contactless HMI technologies of face recognition and speech recognition have become the focus of attention. Data show that in 2020, face recognition access control equipment shipments grew by over 50% over the same period last year, which is significantly higher than the 14% growth rate in 2019. Some analysts say this is mainly due to the pull of COVID-19’s demand for contactless demand.

It is noteworthy that in order to make the contactless human-computer interaction more smooth, multi technology combination schemes are often used. For example, not long ago, NXP demonstrated a scheme to realize face and speech recognition on a single MCU (i.MX RT 106f / s cross-border MCU). Based on this scheme, NXP describes a typical application scenario in building automation – when you enter the elevator, the elevator will quickly “recognize” which floor you are through face recognition, and then the elevator will ask you whether you want to go to the office on a floor through voice interaction. You don’t need to press the floor button, Just command the elevator master to take you to the exact floor through voice Q & A… this seamless and contactless HMI can undoubtedly be quickly reproduced in other fields.

To sum up, the new crown epidemic has forced people to distance themselves from physical distance directly, and with contact technology and schemes as links, we will find that the association between people and people will become more closely related to many scenarios. This is also a gift from technological progress. Although the arrival of this contactless era is somewhat “forced” under the background of the epidemic, from another perspective, AR, machine vision, voice interaction, UWB, NFC, RFID, millimeter wave radar sensors… All kinds of technologies can brush their own sense of existence in this era, which is also an unexpected joy.

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