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Foot-activation for a more sanitary world

Image credit: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07ZPWBY6Z/?tag=trenhunt0f-20

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Matt Kolbe
Matt Kolbe Apr 07, 2021
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Sanitary technology is a significant subject now as we continue to endure the Covid-19 global pandemic. Finding ways to minimize contact with dirty surfaces will help with reducing disease transmission in general.

For everyday surfaces like door handles, sinks, and toilets, we should design infrastructure that encourages people to avoid contact with frequently-touched surfaces.

Foot pedals could be a great solution for opening doors, dispensing soap, or flushing toilets.

Perhaps the first step is eliminating surface contact after people wash their hands. If you open a door to a bathroom, do your business, wash your hands and then open the door to leave, you’re inevitably exposing yourself to a colony of germs after washing up. If bathroom doors had foot pedals to nudge the door open on your way out, you can avoid touching that nasty doorknob.

These design principles could be incorporated into portable toilets, kitchens, and any other facilities of particular contamination risk.


After a quick Google search, it’s clear that there are devices that seek to reduce hand-to-surface contact. The above image shows a 3D printed door handle extension that allows you to open the door with your forearm. While I speculate this is better than using your hand, I’m concerned about the possible germ spread via the forearm since most people cough into their elbow.


This product is more in line with what I’m envisioning, but I think the ergonomics could be improved. It looks a little awkward to operate. We want the easiest possible solution to encourage as many able-bodied people as possible to not touch the door handle.

Here’s another example that’s not too far off from my idea, though again I think it could be easier to use. I envision a pedal on the wall beside the door that uses a spring-powered mechanism to nudge the door open enough that the average person can either walk through without touching the door or open the door a little wider with a shoulder nudge. Doors with locks (like bathroom stalls) could have a pedal that resembles a push-lock: you press it down and it clicks down and remains in a lower position. You can click it again to unlock it or unlock it by pressing the door pedal to open the door.

For sinks, water fountains, and water bottle fill-up stations, I like the idea of using an expression pedal design meaning you can use a pedal to turn the water on, and the harder you press, the more water pressure comes out of the sink.

I'd love for someone to take this idea and run with it! Maybe someone could draw up some designs in CAD or even try 3D printing prototypes. This is an important project for making a healthier human species with fewer disease vectors.

Important note: There is the danger that widespread implementation of this technology could harm people with disabilities. In a perfect world, facilities would have both foot- and hand-operated devices.

[1]Boran, Marie. "3D-printing firm releases hands-free door opener design for free." Irish Times. 18 March, 2020.

[2]Restroom Direct: Commercial Restroom Accessories. Accessed 7 April 2021.

[3]Amazon, accessed 7 April 2021.

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Creative contributions

A motion-enabled add-on for all types of equipment

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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni Apr 08, 2021
I like your idea, @Matt Kolbe! We need it now more than ever. I think that instead of replacing the doors or drinking water fountains or other types of equipment that are used at public places with new doors that can be opened using a foot, or even constructing add-ons for each of them separately, we can have an all-in-one add-on device that you attach (stick) to the equipment.

The device will be activated using a motion sensor. Upon activation, the device will push the button (in case of a drinking water fountain) or the lever (in case of a door). So you only have to buy the add-on device and attach it to your public equipment. This will reduce the cost and still make it safe to use (no touch involved).

The attachment will require some expertise since there are different types of equipment with different types of buttons and also in different places, so the device manufacturing company will have to install the device after purchase. I imagine that the size of the device will be as small as the size of a wallet and hence, will be attachable to most public equipment.

In the case of doors, the motion-enabled device will open the door but the user will have to push it. Alternatively, the sensor device can be attached to a small hydraulic device (these are very common) that also fully opens the door automatically for you to pass through without needing to manually push it.
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Samuel Bello
Samuel Bello2 months ago
The areas that used to require touching the surfaces can have more sensitive sensors placed there so that they can be activated without touching them. An example of this idea is a "touch screen" that can have its sensitivity increased so that it is activated when the user almost touches the screen. A problem that will come up with such a system is that there is a higher chance of accidental activation. The device controls can be increased in size to reduce the chance of accidentally activating an instruction other than the intended one.

Computers can also be improved so that they take instructions from the users' gestures. For example, if there was a doorman at a place, he would know if you want to let him open the door just by looking at you and you would not always have to talk. If voice assistants are developed up to this level in the future then foot activation and other means that involve contact can be dropped.
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J
Juran7 months ago
Yes, I like the idea and I would definitely go in the motion sensor direction. The best examples are the motion sensor bathrooms which can be found almost everywhere. You enter the bathroom, do your job, and then take the soap, wash your hands and dry them, all without touching any surfaces. The only bad thing is the door opening. That can be done like in car trunks opened by a leg motion sensor (https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2110947/Kick-start-trunk-Ford-unveils-model-lets-load-shopping-swift-boot-rear.html).

The problem I see here is:
- doors opening on both sides, putting the person on the other side in danger if they approach at the same time

The solution:
- sliding doors that enter the wall
- a signal that the doors will open (sound, light)

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General comments

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Manel Lladó Santaeularia
Manel Lladó Santaeularia5 months ago
Very nice. The main problem I see with your spring-powered mechanism is making it work well. Doors are heavy and have a hinge-based motion, so you'd need to apply the forces in the proper way and place to open it well and not fast enough for it to be dangerous. Additionally, I think that the existing "foothold" mechanism that you show in the third image is easier and cheaper to install and change than the system you are proposing, which is why I believe it will become kind of the norm in the post-covid world.

For the rest of your idea, I agree that foot activation should be incorporated to plenty more things. Pedals are already used in some water fountains and trash bins at least in Spain, but I don't know if it is a very extended practice elsewhere.
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Povilas S
Povilas S7 months ago
Great idea. I always loved rubbish bins that are opened by pressing the pedal, cause you don't need to touch the bin. Door knobs and other frequently touched surfaces in public places are a bit like rubbish bins, especially in times of pandemic. Sadly for some objects (like handles used for stability while standing in public transport), touching can't be bypassed that way, the only way is to wear (preferably disposable) gloves.
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