COVID-19: The future of self-service is touchless

Guest Author by Guest Author | Jun 5, 2020

Written by Ilya Gutlin, CCO and Board Member, Elenium Automation and Louise Niven, Digital Marketing Manager, Elenium Automation

The World Health Organization (WHO) highlights studies confirming contaminated hands can be vehicles for the spread of certain viruses and bacteria, noting that the organisms can survive on hands for up to 60 minutes and, in certain circumstances, up to three months.

In a world currently overshadowed by a pandemic, making travel touchless is key to preventing germ transmission and reassuring the public.

Some predictions indicate flying will only get back to 2019 levels anywhere from 2023 to 2025 yet we feel a sense of urgency to move towards a new normal state as soon as possible.

Passengers are confused and concerned about the safety of flying. According to a recent Forbes article, only 16% of US adults say they would travel aboard a commercial airliner on the first day after officials sound the “all clear”. And even after two months of “all clear”, only 56% would be comfortable with flying.

Putting passengers in touchless control

Our approach in developing Elenium VITALS was to reassure passengers – the touchless solutions can be intuitively controlled by head movement, voice or mobile phone while the triage system gives a quick indication of possible illness for a further analysis.

Our aim is to make touchless as intuitive as possible. Voice is an obvious alternative to touching screens, and we worked hard to resolve our concerns about noise in a busy airport environment. Our patent pending solution – jointly developed with Amazon Web Services (AWS) using unidirectional microphones – is made for loud environments, and can distinguish a voice with the equivalent of a tractor driving by in the background. 

When a person is detected within the proximity of the device and starts to speak, the camera system estimates the position of a person’s lips. The system then localizes which microphone in the array best aligns with the person’s voice. That microphone becomes the primary audio source, while remaining microphones in the array are used to drown out the background noise.

One size does not fit all and voice should not be the only channel to a touchless experience so we developed our patent pending head movement tracker where a passenger can choose to interact through head movement turning any device into a virtual touch screen.

This technology uses a machine learning classifier to find a point of interest on a person’s face as an anchor point. The cursor follows the head movement of the person in front of the kiosk.  The interaction is intuitive with no training required.  The reason that we chose the head instead of a hand is to make the action a lot more suitable for a passenger who may not have a full use of their arms like a person with a walker or in a wheelchair.  At the same time, our testing showed that head movement is vastly more stable than jittery hand movements.

Providing an end to end touchless experience would be not be possible if the passport scanning or identification would be done in a traditional manner by putting a passport onto a scanner. Using our technology, we designed a process where a passenger is identified, and his face is reconciled with the face on the document by holding his passport or ID to a camera.  From a fraud detection standpoint, this is equivalent to what is currently done in a vast majority of self-service kiosks. 

We are certain that giving the passenger touchless, easy to use, options along will aid adaption and provide confidence to adapt.

Health screening: How and what to measure?

Studies have shown that monitoring key vital signs together, including temperature, respiration and heart rate can predict if a patient has influenza with 93% accuracy, compared to just doing temperature screening which only has a 65% correlation.

How and where you measure those vital signs, specifically temperature, also makes a significant difference to accuracy.  Typically the areas of interest are the forehead, tear ducts and temples, noted in the Washington Post the as the most accurate positions to indicate fever. Noting that the blood supply to the forehead differs from person to person. 

Elenium’s temperature sensing is achieved using a camera and a thermal sensor. The camera output determines the position of a person’s forehead in a frame. The location is then mapped and provided to the thermal sensor. This focuses on the most appropriate area on an individual’s face to ascertain temperature. It minimizes the risk of measuring the temperature from a different person and is not impacted by a foreign object such as a cup of coffee or mask.

The power of three in screening

Measuring temperature alone gives an indication of illness in less than two thirds of cases. Through Elenium VITALS, respiration is measured by using a thermal image to detect nasal region temperature changes associated with breathing. During exhalation, warm air from inside the lungs is released and increasing the temperature in the nasal region, whereas during inhalation, cool air from the external environment is breathed in, lowering the temperature. The respiration signal can be obtained by using a thermal sensor and capturing a time series of a person as they breath in and out. 

While normal heart rates vary, this information can be used in conjunction with other data points to drive a decision matrix model.  The heart rate measurement is facilitated by using a near-infrared camera and a high resolution RGB camera. These cameras are able to detect the oxygenated haemoglobin in the blood flowing through vessels as it absorbs light from a specific wavelength. As a result, the reflected light changes according to variation in blood flow volume. The pulse signal is the output that is obtained by continuing to measure reflected light.

This triage approach can be further enhanced with the inclusion of health or travel related questions, without requiring touch to respond, enhancing the range of data for the decision matrix. The data combined can provide an indication of possible illness allowing for referral to an agent or virtual medical professional for further actions and decision via video conference with the individual through the self-service device or in a more discreet location.

Providing passenger reassurance for restart

A recent survey by McKinsey on consumer sentiment in the new normal shows that consumers remain hesitant to return to in-person public activities such as visiting shopping malls or undertaking domestic travel.

In contrast loneliness and mental health concerns are on the rise,  the sooner we can reassure the public with trustworthy processes and clear policies, the sooner we can reconnect and restart the new normal.


Ilya Gutlin is the CCO and Board Member of Elenium Automation.  Ilya brings with him over 25 years of experience in creating, energizing and leading multi-disciplinary teams, implementing change and digital transformation. He is a strong advocate that a combination of people leadership and technology remain the keys to success and thrives on driving positive change in customer experience. He brings a different frame of reference to his clients and challenges their thinking and status quo for great results.  Ilya is a member of the ACIWITSC and is based in Singapore.

Louise Niven is a communications strategist with expertise in digital strategy, written communications, digital marketing, and website management. Louise Niven has 20 years of experience working across sectors and countries with a focus on innovative and high-tech environments. She has held roles at Morgan Stanley, Wolters Kluver and SITA, leading a number of successful communication and social media initiatives and managing complex website programs.


The article was provided by a third party and, as such, the views expressed therein and/or presented are their own and may not represent or reflect the views of ACI, its management, Board, or members. Readers should not act on the basis of any information contained in the blog without referring to applicable laws and regulations and/or without appropriate professional advice.

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