Touchless tech: is it really the future or a source of frustration?

Kohler touchless toilet
The Kohler touchless toilet is flushed by placing a hand in front of the flush. (Image credit: Kohler)

Much of the tech unveiled at CES each year follows several trends, and 2021 was no exception. As well as the usual gaggle of robots, routers and smart fridges, CES was awash with pandemic-inspired clean tech. Everything from Bluetooth masks and disinfection lamps to air purifiers were on display. 

One of those emerging trends, too, was touchless tech.

Both and Arlo unveiled touchless video doorbells within 24 hours of each other. Rather than the caller pressing the button on the doorbell, software identifies a person standing at the door. If it determines they are not simply passing by (using what Arlo calls "precise Proximity Sensing Technology"), it sounds an audible chime and illuminates an LED for the guest, while simultaneously alerting the homeowner they have a caller.

Touchless toilet and faucet

Meanwhile, Kohler unveiled a touchless kitchen faucet that can also be asked to dispense a set amount of water via a voice assistant. It also launched a touchless toilet that can be flushed by simply by holding your hand in front of the flush. 

Touchless toilets and faucets are seen in airports, shopping malls and other areas where large groups of people gather, but they’re certainly not commonplace in homes. 

On the surface, touchless tech does make sense as it reduces the things we have to make physical contact with, which right now is very welcome. But is it really the answer to our prayers, or will it simply become a source of frustration when it's not as dependable to use as we'd like?

Kohler Setra Faucet

The Kohler Setra Faucet can be controlled by your voice. (Image credit: Kohler)

Incorrect alerts

Arlo’s current video doorbells and Wi-Fi security cameras, including the Arlo Ultra and the Arlo Pro 3, can distinguish whether the motion they've detected has been created by a person, animal, vehicle or another cause (such as trees rustling in the wind) or condensation from a boiler flue. 

On the whole, it works well, but it’s not failsafe. On a particularly windy day, my Arlo Pro 3 floodlight camera often mistakes bushes in the garden rustling in the wind as an animal. So while a touchless Arlo doorbell might not confuse a passer-by with a caller to my home, it could end up chiming when the postman is doing his rounds, or constantly ping when I’m putting the bins out or cleaning my car parked on the drive. 

Doorbells aside, we’ve all experienced the touchless toilets and faucets that don’t work straight away, leaving us manically waving away until they kick into life. We can deal with it when we leave our homes as it doesn’t happen that often, but if it occurs several times a day it's sure to send your stress levels up. 

Similarly, the voice control on Kohler’s faucet could become irksome if it didn’t always understand your command and continued to let water flow – for me right now, just the possibility of that is a bit too much to make the tech seem enticing. 

Then again, it could be one of those trends that suddenly takes off – and in several years, we'll all have them set up in our homes.

Carrie-Ann Skinner

Carrie-Ann Skinner was formerly Homes Editor at TechRadar, and has more than two decades of experience in both online and print journalism, with 13 years of that spent covering all-things tech. Carrie specializes in smart home devices such as smart plugs and smart lights, as well as large and small appliances including vacuum cleaners, air fryers, stand mixers, and coffee machines. Carrie is now a copy editor at PWC.