Touching distance

Written by: Paul Fanning | Published:

​We have probably never before been more conscious of the dangers presented by touching surfaces than we are now. The fact that Coronavirus is thought to live on certain surfaces for days has made us all understandably wary of what we touch and of how many others touch it as well.

This heightened awareness has placed particular focus on the widespread use of touchscreen surfaces in public places – including workplaces, supermarkets, fast food restaurants, railway stations, airports, etc. Clearly these sites are likely to be viewed with caution by many for the foreseeable future.

Concern about these services existed prior to the current crisis, however. According to a study conducted in May 2019, 81% of people recently surveyed would actively choose to use public touchscreens with a germ-free coating than use one without. On average, one airport self check-in touchscreen tested positive for 253,857 colony forming units (CFU). In comparison, an average of only 172 CFU are found on toilet seats.

Even so, the pandemic has brought the issue into particular focus. Research recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows the SARS-CoV-2 virus can survive up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel surfaces.

The challenge

The Challenge, then, is to come up with a way that touchscreen surfaces can continue to be used safely. Clearly disinfecting them after each use is impractical and costly, but can you come up with a better option?


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Coffee Time Challenge is just a bit of fun, but it is based on a real engineering solution. If you send in your ideas by using the comment button below, we can add your solution as an alternative – perhaps something funny, practical, cheap or, of course, innovative.

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