The HoverTap sensor can detect the location of a user’s finger over a touchscreen – all without a camera.

Background and Overview

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed unprecedented constraints on the way people move in open and closed spaces. It has redefined the way in which we interact with the environment, other people, and even objects around us. At the onset of the pandemic, surfaces were among the first sources believed and confirmed to pose contamination risks. Face masks, as well as gloves, became common everywhere. And while further studies and updates into surfaces were discussed, and some panic subsided, excessive handwashing, sanitization, and minimal touch have become the new norm. In fact, health advisors still caution against frequently touching surfaces, especially in high-footfall and multi-user areas such as building elevators. Governments, commercial entities, and people continue to spend vast amounts into deep-cleaning efforts. One study estimated that by the end of 2020, the global sale of surface disinfectants totaled $4.5 Billion.

 

COVID-19 infection incidents have been traced back to elevators. In one study, an asymptomatic woman in China, who had recently returned from the US and was quarantined at home, infected her downstairs neighbor through her building’s elevator. NZ Technologies identified the challenge of elevator buttons early on and sought to deliver a solution that would simplify the lives of the general public so that they could resume their day-to-day activities more assuredly. We recognized that our Touchless Image Navigation technology, initially designed to work within the sterile conditions of the operating room, was well suited for the vertical transportation industry, especially elevators. We created HoverTap™, a technology we patented and commercialized to transform any existing high-touch surface (such as elevator buttons) into a contact-free interface that protects users from the spread of infectious diseases.

Inspiring a Solution 

Our core technology and inspiration behind HoverTap was based on a solution that we had invented specifically to address a pain felt by surgeons. Our patented TIPSO AirPad™ was developed 6 years ago, in Vancouver, British Columbia, to help prevent the risk of infections inside operating rooms. Using this unique device, surgeons were now able to touchlessly interact with patient medical images during surgery – without leaving the bed or disrupting their surgical workflow. With COVID-19, we recognized that our touchless technology has applications far beyond the operating room and especially suited for the post-pandemic world – a world which needs a new way of touchlessly interacting with high touch surfaces.

TIPSO AirPad in use to navigate CT images during a surgical procedure.

Touchless Interactions for the Everyday User

The patented HoverTap™ technology was carefully developed with the user’s experience in mind. Its two main components, a novel 3D capacitive sensor and an artificial intelligence algorithm can detect the 3D position of a user’s fingertip in real-time. The sensor is in the form of a ‘picture frame’ and it is fitted over the high-touch surface in question. The sensor then senses the user’s fingertip, based on a data-trained AI algorithm, and determines its 3D location above the surface. One common implementation is a touch-free touchscreen (aka a touchless screen) – touchless taps in the air can interact with virtual buttons on an LCD screen. Also, simple touchless gestures such as an air swipe can be used, for example, to quickly call an elevator or turn on a light.

An early HoverTap prototype being used to select a floor in an elevator.

The First Installation

The HoverTap sensor, by its very nature, can be retrofitted to existing elevators. As an auxiliary device, it doesn’t interfere with any existing buttons. The retrofit connection is simple – button signal wires are connected via signal relay switches and the system is physically mounted beside the cabin buttons or directly over the hallway call buttons. We have collaborated closely with a local elevator service company, West Coast Elevator (WCE), and they have played an instrumental role in validating our sensor design to suit the unique demands of the elevator. Together we’ve finalized the product’s design and defined a straightforward process for installing HoverTap inside elevator cabins.

 

HoverTap™ was unanimously well-received by early users, the public, and the industry alike. The Hovertap display is a dynamic interface that visually inspires confidence that the property is providing a safe environment for elevator passengers. It was met with strong interest from Ronald McDonald House – a respected institution that provides housing support for families with children in need of essential care. It was here that we installed the HoverTap™ Lift touch-free elevator solution for the first time as a commercially-ready system. Also, the HoverTap™ Lift system is set to be installed at Richmond City Hall in complete alignment with the Richmond City Council’s vision for a modern, energy-sensitive, and environmentally-friendly building.

A Strategic Collaboration: NZTech and Dupar Controls Inc.

NZTech has entered into a Manufacturing Collaboration Agreement with Dupar Controls, a world leader in the innovation, design, and manufacture of elevator control systems and push-button technology.

As the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) of HoverTap Lift, NZTech will provide the core hardware and Dupar will market the product under two models: (1) a retrofit for existing elevator panels, and (2) a panel-integrated solution for new elevator installs or overhauls. The retrofit option allows for a budget-minded surface-mount without the need to replace the existing button fixtures, while the panel-integrated option incorporated into new button fixtures provides a premium finish for a luxurious installation. Systems are now being manufactured for 5 test sites in Ontario and BC. With the combined expertise of NZTech as an innovator and Dupar as a manufacturer, touch-free elevator experiences will be available for buildings big and small.

A rendering of HoverTap’s touchless screen integrated within the COP of an elevator cabin.
Competitive Advantages for HoverTap™ Lift:
  • Flat (non-protruding) design Simple touchless input (touchless taps & swipes akin to smartphones)
  • Intuitive user feedback (detects user approach & input) Retrofittable to existing elevator cabins (working in parallel to existing buttons)
  • No cameras involved (no privacy concerns)

Philosophy and Vision Forward

HoverTap™ is helping us get closer to our vision for increased comfort and control, with an emphasis on safety and peace of mind. Our tagline for the technology, Bringing touchless interactions to the general public, motivated us to work tirelessly and provide the type of innovation that has put NZ Technologies on the map as a leader in touchless technology. In fact, we see elevators as just the tip of the iceberg. Given how frequently we interact with touch-based interfaces in our daily lives, we hope that the technology that took off in operating rooms and elevators will soon be rolled out into other applications such as gas stations, bank machines, and airport kiosks.

 

As we recover from the devasting impacts of COVID-19 and enter a post-pandemic era, our intuitive technology provides practical and easy-to-install solutions that decrease the risk of infectious diseases among the general public. While COVID-19 may have been a wake-up call for us to revisit how we go about our daily habits, it also provided an opportunity for technological evolutions, such as ours, whose sole purpose is ensuring public safety and wellbeing no matter where we are.

Author:

Dr. Nima Ziraknejad, is a serial entrepreneur, a Professional Engineer, and an inventor of 40+ international patents and journal publications. He has built a track record of success in 20 years, bringing products from R&D to the mining, oil & gas, automotive, and healthcare markets.

Pranav Saxena, a Professional Engineer, is one of the founding inventors of NZTech’s products and over 20+ patents. He has built & trained a cohesive engineering team, driven product development, and managed NZTech’s international regulatory/certification approvals.

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Dr. Nima Ziraknejad

Ph.D., P.Eng. Founder and CEO

An inventor by nature, I have devoted my life to technological innovation, taking sector-specific problems and transforming them into practical, commercialized solutions.

As CEO, I am responsible for leadership and operations at NZTech, which includes securing and managing the financing, and making decisions on all strategic activities. My role also extends to cultivating relationships in business, technological and financial spheres to grow business development and productivity.

Creating transformative change in the healthcare sector is my passion. I am constantly exploring new horizons and connecting the technologies we have invented to more practical applications in the medical field.

My passion and drive to develop new technologies – achieved by understanding users’ unmet needs – ensures that we attract highly-skilled experts to our team who have an important contribution to make and who know that something tangible will result from our collaborative efforts.

At NZTech, I have been instrumental in:

• Taking an R&D project to a commercialized medical product in just five years.
• Creating a footprint in the hospitals and an awareness around the advantages of touchless controls in the operating room.
• Securing $4M of funding from government and private investments.
• Forming and leading a team of 12 HQPs and staffs responsible for R&D, manufacturing, marketing, commercialization and customer support.