Touchless tech to the rescue

How smart home devices can make you and your family safer during the pandemic and beyond

Fears of COVID-19 have kept millions of Americans indoors and socially distant over the past several months. But while sequestering at home decreases your risk of contact with others and acquiring coronavirus, staying behind closed doors isn't foolproof.

For example, if you feel sick or have tested positive for the virus, you'll need to quarantine from housemates. Or maybe you're a front-line worker who, despite washing your hands, changing your clothes and taking every precaution, worries about exposing your family to germs you may be bringing home.

While scientists haven't yet developed a vaccine, some pretty bright tech people have invented smart home devices that can make things easier and reduce your risks of transmission while this pandemic plays out.

"Smart home devices and related technology can be a powerful tool in combating the virus. These devices reduce contact with other people and surfaces by, for example, turning your mobile phone into a control center," says Bob Stohrer, chief marketing officer for New York City-headquartered Kangaroo, a maker of smart home security products.

One of these recommended gadgets is a smart speaker like an Amazon Echo or Google Home, which uses a built-in smart assistant like Alexa and Google Assistant, respectively. Smart speakers can, among dozens of other capabilities, answer questions, tell you the weather forecast, play music, make a phone call and control smart lights and security cameras around your home - all with the power of your voice and no fingers required.

A variation on the smart speaker is a smart display, which features a small screen with a speaker behind it, ideal for placing on the kitchen countertop or desk in a home office.

"If you do a lot of cooking, a smart screen can help you find recipes simply by asking and read the instructions to you," says Carl Prouty, a tech expert from Abt Electronics in Glenview. "They may also allow you to make video calls to friends and family."

A device that can reduce exposure to front door visitors is a video doorbell.

"A doorbell camera lets you know on your phone or smart speaker when someone is at your door or when you've received a delivery, and you can set it up to alert you even if no one presses the doorbell," says JT Hwang, chief technology officer at Vivint Smart Home, based in Provo, Utah.

Doorknobs and deadbolt thumb turns are possible places for germ transmission. That's why many experts advise upgrading to a battery-powered smart lock that will replace or work with your existing deadbolt hardware and be locked or unlocked via your phone, voice, or touch pad/touch screen. And swapping out your door handle or knob with a hands-free lever - one that you can push in or turn up/down with your knee, forearm or elbow - is a good idea, too.

Touchless tech is even transforming the kitchen sink. While motion sensor-activated faucets have been around for a while, the latest batch by key brands can also be voice-controlled via Alexa or another smart assistant.

"In this unprecedented time, there's a heightened emphasis on hand-washing. One way to help reduce the spread of dirt and germs in your space is by limiting the number of things you touch, including the faucet handle," says Suzy Street, product manager of IoT at Moen, based in North Olmstead, Ohio.

Don't forget: When it's time to head out and shop for groceries or other essentials, your first and foremost smart home gizmo - your mobile phone - can come in extra handy.

"Most iPhones and Android phones have wallet apps that allow you to store credit cards and pay for items by simply holding your phone near the payment terminal," Prouty says. "Of course, you can also use your smartphone to shop for goods online or order food for takeout or delivery, which further prevents COVID-19 transmission."

The beauty of smart home technology, Prouty adds, "is that it's essentially limitless in how it can be implemented and utilized. As more people get and use these devices, more ideas will surface as to how they can benefit us now and long after the coronavirus threat has passed."

You can control you home's lights using a phone or tablet, which reduces the spreading of germs by touching light switches.
Many high-tech home devices are voice activated, for use with smart home speaker systems.
The beauty of smart home technology is that it continues to evolve and is essentially limitless.
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