After languishing in relative obscurity for years, the electronic faucet is poised to enter the spotlight—or so manufacturers believe.

As a result, major players in the plumbing industry are making a play for the category with sleek introductions meant to capture buyers' attention.

Consumers, of course, are not oblivious to the electronic faucet. Almost everyone by now has used one in an airport, restaurant, or public bathroom. The products are said to have been developed in the 1950s, but it was not until the 1980s that they gained attention.

The products, however, have had little penetration at home, despite manufacturers’ claims that the units offer hygienic benefits (users don’t have to touch the faucets) and save water. But inconsistent functionality in commercial applications has made consumers hesitant to install one in a powder room or main bath. Some consumers also balked at not being able to adjust the water’s temperature.

Fast forward 30 years and manufacturers say things are different and technology has changed the game. The industry claims it has addressed all of the previous products’ issues and says if consumers try the new products, they will be pleasantly surprised and impressed.

North Olmsted, Ohio–based faucet giant Moen says its newly introduced MotionSense technology is the dawn of a new era in electronic faucets.

“MotionSense was created to respond directly to consumers’ behaviors and preferences in the kitchen,” Jack Suvak, the company’s senior director of research and insights, said earlier this year when Moen unveiled the product at the 2012 Kitchen and Bath Industry Show in Chicago. “With the wave of a hand or by placing a cup beneath the spout, you are treated to a moment of delight as you experience a faucet that intuitively understands exactly what you are trying to do and responds immediately to your needs.”

The Moen product’s sensors detect movement in two zones to set water flow in motion. A homeowner may also activate the unit with the handle.

The Swiss brand KWC also is getting in on the action. Its ONO touch light PRO faucet line features an additional electronic operating option that makes the products more versatile and flexible, the company says. Products require a hard-wired control that can be permanently mounted where it’s most convenient, but it also allows an optional second wireless control with a magnet base that can be attached to a variety of surfaces. The company says homeowners may use a finger or elbow to activate the controls.

Technology notwithstanding, perhaps design is the biggest stride the industry has made in the 30 years since the first commercial products were introduced. Early electronic faucets were cumbersome and inelegant, necessarily so to hide the various electrical mechanisms. But today’s products from manufacturers such as Grohe, American Standard, and KWC have taken on more sophisticated designs, with sinuous curves and cleaner forms.

But don’t take our word for it. Here are 10 products that show electronic faucets in a whole new light.

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