It’s probably not a surprise that sanitizing gadgets is part of the narrative during a pandemic, but is this something meant to last, or just another passing tech trend?
While it can fall under the term “clean tech,” it’s not necessarily to be confused with the kind of technology developing for the environment. This is about users and their gadgets or personal items. Think keys, phones, headphones, glasses, watches, and so on. We may take for granted how much our hands interact with these things, and some companies are seizing on that by presenting peace of mind through sanitation.
It was one of the trends that came out of the all-virtual CES 2021 in January. It’s ironic that this would all come out in lieu of a show that typically attracts 180,000 people to Las Vegas to breathe on and touch the same gadgets repeatedly. But what better time than during a pandemic to unveil gadgets to clean other gadgets.
This one spoke to me, personally, as I’ve used air purifiers at home for many years. But just using one isn’t a bulletproof way to keep an airborne virus at bay. It depends on the size of the purifier and how much air it can circulate to filter out any dangerous particles. For example, put a portable one on a table in a room, and it’s unlikely to cover the whole space.
That hasn’t stopped some vendors from trying to make the point that cleaner air is within reach. LG did just that with its PureCare Mini Care Purifier, which looks like a Bluetooth speaker, and made to move around like one.
Clean Air Zone introduced a purifier that filters air through water instead of a filter, using enzymes to break down contaminants, allergens and particles. Because it can trap particles that are considerably smaller than those a HEPA filter can catch, the company says it’s effective enough to trap any remnants of COVID-19 in the air. Plus, it claims the purifier is effective up to 700-1,200 square feet, covering many condos and apartments. The only caveat on paper seems to be the price, which is estimated to be $1,500 U.S. when it comes out this summer.
Speaking of H2O, Taiwanese company Eleclean came up with a way to electrify water and turn it into hydrogen peroxide and hydroxyls that would cut down microorganisms and virus particles on clothes and shoes.
And if that wasn’t all enough, Unipin, a Chinese brand, created a robot that roams around a space using a combination of purification and UV light to sanitize both the air and surfaces in its range. With a price closer to $10,000, it’s probably more for industrial use, but you can see where this might be going.
Hybrid designs that try to incorporate both UV light and air purification may be the next wave. The ShortWaveLight is an example of such a product, though is neither a robot nor a cumbersome size. It’s a device you just lay on a table nearby, aim it at yourself, and let it intercept all the bad microbes it can. The emitter inside never actually shines any light at you, making the process appear and feel invisible to the naked eye.
That’s unlike other UV gizmos that are far more straightforward. Targus is releasing its UV-C LED Disinfection Light for desktops. Shine it over your keyboard and mouse, and it kills microorganisms over a five-minute span. Once it detects motion, like when you’re about to type, it automatically turns off.
The Lexon Oblio combines UV sanitation with wireless charging. This is actually a combination that makes sense, though its bucket design means you can’t really see the screen while it’s charging. Perhaps a good way to wean someone off phone use.
And then there’s Vancouver-based Coral UV, whose 3-in-1 sterilizer looks like a mini cooler, but is equipped with UV lights to sanitize anything you put in it. And if that’s not enough, it also has a built-in dryer through the warm temperature inside. A HEPA filter keeps contaminants from outside air getting in.
Touchless faucets and toilets are pretty common in public washrooms these days, but why not make it that way at home? That’s how Kohler is marketing its latest products, where germaphobes can rejoice at not having to actually touch anything when doing their business inside. Toto is looking to do the same, albeit aimed more at hotels and resorts, suggesting that travel will feel less touchy than it did before.
Bathroom tech will resonate for those who can afford it, whereas social distancing tech, generally speaking, will probably be less impactful. It will come in various forms, much like it did during CES, where wearables could alert someone when they’re getting too close to someone.
This is another concept that will be more niche than it appears at this stage of the pandemic. While people may wear masks for a while in more crowded situations, even after the world declares victory over COVID-19, these concepts appear to be more reactionary than anything else.
Known more gaming, Razer developed a concept called Project Hazel. Transparent enough to see the wearer’s mouth, it also adds vocal amplification to reduce strain when talking through the mask. And true to form, Razer even threw in lighting effects. There’s no release date planned, and there may never be one, as the company could be hedging on what happens with the virus.
Others are trying to add some value through other useful use cases. AirPop Active+ Halo is actually the more “techy” version of existing masks from the company. It works with an app to not only monitor outside pathogens, but also your own breathing. Maskfone integrates a pair of earbuds for music playback. The company also markets it as an athletic wearable with filtration to block out harmful particles, while also ensuring higher breathability.
Then come the wackier ideas, like the Seguro AirSafe, which makes the whole face visible — with a helmet on top. The reason why is because it’s basically a facemask with a multi-layered system of filters, fans and pressurized air to keep any unfiltered air away from you.
We’ll wait and see how much of all this turns to vapourware. Often times, trendier tech falls by the wayside as marketers misinterpret what the market will bear in both want and price. This feels like one of those times, if only because mask-wearing isn’t something people will likely miss, and things like air purification aren’t exact sciences on smaller devices.
Still, it’s not a bad idea to sanitize the items we touch most. Phones, keys, remotes, toys, water bottles, and so on. UV rays are great at neutralizing microbes, so there’s always a good chance you can reduce exposure that way. Anything that reduces exposure to the common cold and the flu is fine by me, personally. Given how dirty cell phones can be, it’s good to make it easier to clean them.