ANA and Jamco to Develop
the World’s First Hands-free Lavatory Door
as Part of its Comprehensive Efforts
to Combat the Coronavirus
"Can you make a lavatory door that can be opened by a passenger’s elbow?" That was the challenge presented to ANA and Jamco as they sought to protect passengers from exposure to the Coronavirus
Efforts are being undertaken globally to fight COVID-19 to prevent any in-flight infection and ANA is developing a prototype in-flight lavatory that can be opened using an elbow, eliminating the need for hand contact. This will make it possible for passengers to exit the lavatory without touching the door after they have washed their hands, which greatly reduces the risk of contagion. The use of an elbow to open the door is just one example of how ANA is examining the viability of a range of outside-the-box approaches as it works to reduce COVID-19 exposure on its aircraft.
The idea came from a convenience store refrigerator that could be opened by a shopper’s foot
"We have to take action to keep our passengers safe." Said Katsunori Maki, manager of ANA's Product and Services Planning Department. In mid-April, when Coronavirus was spreading rapidly globally, Maki was looking for solutions that could help protect ANA passengers. Typically in charge of determining the aircraft specifications of the seats and cabin, Maki has been devoting time to keeping ANA planes as clean and safe as possible. He studied the latest ideas from across the industry and collected and analyzed data, regularly connecting with leading experts in infection countermeasures to ensure that ANA passengers were able to have a safe and secure flight.
In the midst of all this, Maki came across a news segment on TV that covered how convenience stores were fighting COVID-19 by introducing refrigerators that allow customers to open their doors with their feet. He then had an epiphany and realized that if a door can be opened without touching it, that would be the ideal solution for ANA’s lavatory.
The manufacturer was prepared and a prototype was ready in just two weeks
During the Golden Week holiday, Maki was still hard at work developing his idea. He created a blueprint and emailed it to Mr. Tsuyoshi Oguri of aircraft interiors manufacturer Jamco asking, "Can't you do this?" It was a fortunate coincidence that at the same time, Oguri was in the middle of setting up a project within Jamco (* 1) to explore ideas for coping with air travel in “the new normal” and was putting together a proposal for a similar products. Both sides agreed to move forward and explore the viability of the plan.
Their first idea was to mimic the refrigerators that Maki had seen on TV and create a door that could be opened with a passenger’s foot. However, because of the location of the structure on the lavatory door the device blocked the vent. The original design was also a challenge for passengers because of the coordination needed using feet. This led to exploring the possibility of opening the door with one’s elbow, and in just two weeks they managed to create seven different prototypes for advanced trials.
“The users don't know how to open it ...” Some difficulties were encountered during the trial stage
The team immediately started monitoring how the prototypes performed in real-world scenarios, with Jamco employees opening doors. However, a number of issues quickly appeared once the prototypes were subjected to actual flight conditions.
When the plate-shaped handle was tested, some people thought that they were supposed to press this in order to exit. The loop shaped handle was also confusing as many wanted to pull it to exit. Finally, when testing out the strap-like handle it was assumed by many that it should be gripped like a strap.
Through a process of trial and error, understanding what the customer wants
In addition to surveying and speaking with trial participants, the team repeatedly watched videos in order to understand why they interacted with the prototypes in the way that they did. After processing participant feedback and input, the design team finally completed a prototype that addressed what they considered to be the major issues exposed by the tests. The final designed includes a small hole that makes it possible for passengers to hook with their fingers and interact with in a number of other ways. To help with educating proper use, an instructional pictogram was installed.
Describing the team’s rationale, Oguri said, "The reason why we changed our minds on the ideal design is that each person has different ways of addressing infection prevention. Some people want to use their elbows, others don't. I found out that customers who prefer opening the door by simply using one finger and the cuffs of their clothing. I think it was important that we consider and address the full range of preferences when presenting options on how to open the door.”
Maki felt that the real world trials were the most effective way to create a solution that worked for the majority of passengers. “What I always do when developing something new is ask myself ‘why’ at least 5 times,” said Maki. "You can look at feedback data all you want and even check out the prototypes through VR, but using it for yourself remains the most effective approach. If you don't use it and try it yourself, you won't know how it feels."
"Becoming part of a comprehensive approach to passenger health and safety"
ANA will continue to adjust the hands-free lavatory door system through repeated tests so that it will be ready for installation on actual ANA aircraft. "Our ultimate goal is to dispel the anxiety of passengers who want to travel or go on a business trip, but are still hesitant to take a plane, and to be able to fly safely.” Maki said “This initiative is part of the ANA Care Promise (* 2), and is just one of the programs that ANA has put in place to help our passengers in this difficult time."
The ANA Group aims to recreate the time when passengers were able to relax and enjoy their travels and will continue exploring opportunities to harness innovative technology to improve the travel experience.
*1 Jamco Initiatives "Project Blue Sky"
*2 Please see here for details of ANA Care Promise.
Please see ANA Group Snapshot here.