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How Touchless Technology Can Make Life Easier

Devices like smart locks and hands-free faucets do more than just protect you from germs

Smart home with mobile phone for lock

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En español | Tired of washing your hands incessantly? Sick of coming up with creative ways of avoiding touching things — using your shirt sleeves, rubber gloves or strange gadgets like the Grip Guard?

How about not touching things in the first place?

That's the premise of touchless technologies. Widely touted as a way to limit the spread of bacteria and viruses like the novel coronavirus, these products offer another significant benefit for consumers: convenience.


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Touchless faucets let you wash your hands after handling raw meat without sullying the handle. Touchless door locks let you in when your hands are full or if you don't want to stand there feeling vulnerable while you search for your keys. And using voice-recognition tech in smart ways can mean fewer surfaces to clean.

Touchless faucets: Go with the flow

Touchless kitchen faucets such as those from Kohler and Moen work seamlessly and reliably. They don't wear out, and they shut off automatically to save water. Better still, most can be installed by do-it-yourselfers.

There is a wide variety of styles to choose from to match your kitchen hardware. Kohler, for example, has about a half dozen models that cost about the same as premium non-touchless models, starting about $400 (less at big-box retailers).

Hands-free fixtures use a motion sensor, usually situated in the side of the faucet. Simply pass your hand across it and the water flows. To turn it off, wave at the sensor again. They come with a single handle, typically at the side, that you can use to set the temperature (and that any visitors unfamiliar with your high-tech faucet can use to turn it on and off).

DIYers should note that these faucets require a power source. There are some plug-in models, but it's usually simpler to connect a supplied, battery-powered control box under the sink. A set of 6 AA batteries should last more than a year (unless the grandkids get into playing with the sensor).

The only hitch: Installing a kitchen faucet requires awkwardly twisting yourself under the sink and often the use of a basin wrench, a long-handled tool designed specifically to attack from below the bolt that holds the faucet onto the sink and counter. Basin wrenches cost from $10 to $30, with the more expensive models giving you more grip.

Operating smart speaker devices in her home through the use of smart phone

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Smart locks: Lose your keys

Easier to install are replacement door locks that use Bluetooth to communicate with your smartphone and Wi-Fi to connect to your home network. These smart locks are designed to be switched out with existing deadbolt locks.

Simply approaching the door with your phone in your pocket will unlock it — handy when your arms are full carrying groceries. With a remote-control app, you can open the door for a dog walker or service person even when you are thousands of miles away.

Not only can you open it just by approaching your front door, you can also add other family members and temporary users. If you want to get really geeky, you can even set access for specific days and times. Some, like the Kwikset Halo, understand Amazon's Alexa and Google's Assistant commands.

And if you find yourself wondering if you remembered to lock up when you left to walk Fluffy, the “geofencing” feature on smart locks automatically locks the door when you leave.

Going touchless with a smart lock does come with some caveats. For one thing, they are a lot pricier than standard deadbolts. A basic mechanical lock can cost as little as $15; a reliable smart lock will cost between $200 and $300.

For another, batteries can run out and wireless connections can fail. You might consider a model that includes a physical key as a backup. A numeric keypad that lets you enter a code is also handy, in case you don't always have your smartphone with you. Such models are available from traditional lock companies such as Kwikset, Schlage and Yale as well as newcomers like August and Ultraloq.

Voice assistants: Talk to the phone

One of the most useful touchless technologies is all but ubiquitous today. Voice-recognition programs like Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri and Google's Assistant are built into or compatible with an ever-larger number of devices, from TVs to watches to appliances and more, at no extra charge.

During these pandemic days, smartphones may present the best-use case for this technology. You can use Siri on your iPhone, for example, no sticky fingers needed. Just say, “Siri, call my daughter,” and the phone will take care of the rest. You can also leave yourself reminders, set timers and trigger Web searches the same way.

Your iPhone will also imprint on your voice like a duckling and respond only to your commands. It can sometimes be tricked — by a same-sex relative with a similar-sounding voice, for example — but it means never wondering, Did I wipe down the phone after the last time I used it?

Not surprisingly, the pandemic is inspiring the use of touchless technologies in new ways. Some 11,500 ExxonMobil gas stations in the U.S. now have pumps that understand Alexa voice commands, for example, thanks to a partnership between the oil company and financial-tech firm Fiserv. No need to insert your credit card and punch in your zip code: Alexa will help you unlock the pump.

Of course, you still have to get out, select the grade and pump the gas yourself, but it means a lot less touching than before.

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