Digital Signage Expo: Toward an Intelligent Environment

Aware-live and Intel Customer Recognition Technologies

Those of us who attended the recent Digital Signage Expo in Las Vegas were left with the feeling that while this particular show isn’t designed for the SEGD audience specifically, it provoked a lot of thought about where digital technology is taking our profession.

All of the big players in display technology were profiling bigger, brighter, higher-resolution screens. We asked the tech expert for Gable Vision, Stephen Gottlich where he thinks the resolution race will end, he answered that where we are now for LEDs is about the endpoint for outdoor screens. That is, it is hard to tell the difference past that pitch outside. Inside it’s very different. LED screens have a ways to go before they can be compared favorably to LCD screens indoors. Nanolumenshave a great combination of reliability with flexible tiles that can easily wrap around surfaces and be scaled, giving designers real flexibility to build their displays and breaking the rectangle form factor.

The only wayfinding solution I saw was from 22Mileswho have an application where you supply the maps and overlay layers are created which then use GPS to get you to your destination. In addition, the company was demonstrating a third layer that could provide a filtered view of locations, for instance showing you where all the restrooms were in a hospital, or the emergency wards. I don't think this is new, though.

I went to DSE with the express purpose of finding out about technologies that are moving towards interactivity, the stepping off point for an intelligent environment and was pleasantly surprised to see quite a few applications ready to be employed by XGDers to create interactive experiences in the environment.

Most of the interesting technology I saw revolved around identification and feedback (the basis of interaction). Much of it was trying to enable spaces with the same ability to identify who is using the space and what they are doing in the space in the same way websites use tracking cookies. Physical spaces are doing this with cameras, software, and sensors. Anecdotally, this seems to be the Holy Grail for retailers who feel that on-line stores have a huge advantage over them in terms of interacting with and knowing who is in their store and what they are doing there. The buzzword here is the enabling of big data in physical retail spaces.

Facial recognition software, demographics recognition, and camera tracking of paths through a space were on display at DSE from a company called Lo-KSystems. This was the most interesting suite of technologies I saw, though not necessarily in the application they were showing it (retail). This software can track multiple users in a space. It sees you enter and tracks your path until you exit a space. As soon as you interact with something, say pick up a pair of Kate Spade shoes (or imagine, stop to look at a dinosaur in a museum), it assigns you an ID number. From then on, it builds a profile of your movements and interactions in the space and can deliver content to local screens (content that can follow you around and keep resuming play when you get to the next screen, for instance). By the end of the visit, it has recorded a user profile and, like cookies on a website, can then aggregate the data into a profile of usage for the space. It also has demographics/facial recognition software, that is enabled to add demographics to your ID if you look at a screen, which has cameras attached to them. The 3 pronged approach offers really powerful potential for customizing content, understanding usage and identifying issues with or opportunities to improve the use of space and digital media within it. It is equally impressive as a learning tool for designers to gain insights as it could be for customizing spaces.

The idea of feedback and big data starting to determine the content and interactions provided in a space is the level at which interactive tech is right now. Its the way forward for EGD to become a more knowledgable, valuable partner in the conversation about creating experiences in places as well as the break from our one-way information design model of wayfinding to a more fluid interaction within a space based on personal preferences. When we can make smarter decisions on what to deliver a person navigating a space such as a museum or a store, then we can start to personalize the experience in new ways as websites have been doing. I believe that will add value or answer problems that EGDers have not been able to add or ask before.

At the moment, software manufacturers clearly believe that the killer app for this technology is about helping a retailer make a sale. Intel are another company profiling Demographics recognitionsoftware suites. I wish we could get some EGDers to start experimenting with this software, because I am not convinced that the hard sell is the only way to go with this new tech. Put in our vocabulary, what new problems would this tech allow us to tackle in a physical space? It may be that our softer goals of navigating a space or experiencing a space may be the better applications for this technology, because it does not feel like they have found their killer application point in the pushing of more ads at a shopper yet! In fact, tying this all together, we saw a great panel discussion on the LAX Tom Bradley International Terminal project, which integrates some of these software ideas into architecturally scaled displays. Some of these displays track the movements of passersby, triggering content changes that seem to create a wave-like disturbance in the graphics as people walk by. This is very low-value interaction and not yet answering any real user problems, just a recognition of presence. I think we can do much more than that with interactions.

If Experiential Graphic Designers started to embrace these feedback-loop technologies, they would start to make the transition from creating one-way communications in a space (present wayfinding) to interacting with people in a space (i.e., enabling personalization of the experience and enabling the delivery of functional benefits in addition to purely communication benefits). This is most likely the important next step in our profession’s evolution toward being the interface designers of the coming intelligent environment and these technologies are ready for use now.

Watch Chris Whalenof SEGD member OpenEye  give a run down of what he saw at DSE.


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