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.
Boran, Marie. "3D-printing firm releases hands-free door opener design for free." Irish Times. 18 March, 2020.
Restroom Direct: Commercial Restroom Accessories. Accessed 7 April 2021.
A motion-enabled add-on for all types of equipment
Shubhankar KulkarniApr 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.