By Don Dingee
Interactive displays including digital signage and kiosks are becoming much more intelligent. High performance processors are inside displays and edge computing platforms. Form factor specifications such as Intel® SDM make creating displays around single board computers easier. Networks of displays backed by edge computing can coordinate content. Advanced technologies like computer vision, artificial intelligence (AI), and container deployment are opening new possibilities, and introducing some new challenges.
These technologies are changing how business is done in industries like retail, banking, hospitality, and more. To learn more about these important trends, we turned to Intel’s Christie Rice who leads business development for retail in the Internet of Things Group. Recently, Christie sat down for a conversation with Don Dingee. Here’s the highlights of their interview.
DD: Let’s get started. You’ve been at Intel in various roles over two decades. How have things changed at the company during your time there?
CR: By far the biggest change within Intel I’ve seen over 20 plus years is the emergence of the intelligent edge. The IoT market, and Intel’s focus on it, has grown rapidly. Over time we have figured out where our sweet spots are with the edge, and interactive displays, kiosks, and industrial machines. Those kinds of things are really good fits for what we do best, which is providing the technology solutions retailers need to delight their customers.
DD: Let’s talk about your current role. You’re one of Intel’s digital signage and interactive kiosk point people, expand what that means. What technologies and customer segments are you working with?
CR: When we think of interactive displays, including digital signage and kiosks, some are a form of one-way communication, while others provide a way to interact. We like the space where people interact with a kiosk, because that takes more processing power, and more hardware from partners like Advantech.
There are some new challenges that have come up over the past year around people not wanting to touch things. Where before you would have just gone up and touched a screen, now you might hesitate a little. With that in mind, we are looking at technologies that allow you to interact with a screen without actually having to touch it. We are helping our partners like Advantech use 3D cameras to control a screen with gestures, and voice recognition to control screens based on what you’re saying to it.
Our team focuses on the retail, banking, and hospitality industries to help them implement and take advantage of the benefits of interactive displays. We also focus on the education and corporate space, mostly via IFPDs – Interactive Flat Panel Displays – which is a bit of a different space. We see interactive displays going into places like quick service restaurants, retail stores, malls, bank and hotel lobbies. We also see a lot of digital signage going into advertising spaces such as airports, subways, bus stops, and even as on-street signage.
DD: How has the partnership between Intel and Advantech helped move interactive displays forward?
CR: Advantech has been a strong partner in Intel’s Partner Alliance and earlier in our embedded computing alliances for over two decades – pretty much for as long as I’ve been at Intel! At Intel, we place a high priority on ecosystem development. Our ecosystem is critical to our go to market strategies. Our goal is helping our partners create a range of interoperable products satisfying a broad range of customer applications and use cases. We created the Intel® Smart Display Module (SDM) form factor reference design, and Advantech has responded with robust, long-lifecycle products keeping pace with the latest Intel processor technology.
DD: A couple years ago, you said one of the biggest challenges is justifying ROI for digital signage experiences. Are you still concerned with that? What are you seeing in pilots or deployments at scale?
CR: Justifying ROI is always a challenge for any technical investment. The good thing is we are building more proof points around the true value of digital signs and kiosks, and we now have a much better understanding of the return on investment our customers are seeing.
For instance, one of our partners did some great before and after testing around menu boards. They first measured sales over a period of time using their existing non-digital menu boards. Then they turned the non-digital signage into digital, with the exact same information. They got the same sales results. Then they put pictures on the screens and saw some upsell. And then they made the pictures move and saw even more upsell. By making incremental changes, they understood which ones made the most impact.
We have also seen great ROI from using kiosks to take orders in quick service restaurants. Apparently, you and I will generally order more from a kiosk than we will from a person! Also, the kiosk never forgets to upsell or ask if you want to add anything to your order.
I think these examples tell us a couple of things. If you don’t have the right content, just having a digital screen isn’t necessarily going to change anything for you. You need the digital screen, which makes things easy to change, and you need the right content to get people engaged. The nice thing is, you can play around with content easily and see what works with audiences – what provides the best ROI.
DD: That’s cool. Something else we’re hearing is the massive potential for AI technology. What are your customers asking for in AI-enabled applications? What do you see moving from hype to reality first?
CR: We talked earlier about people not necessarily wanting to touch things. Using computer vision AI for gesture recognition, and AI for voice recognition is a start. But we’re also being asked how computer vision or other technologies can help situational awareness. Are there 50 people walking by a screen, or just two? Understanding what’s going on around the screen is important to making sure it displays the right things at the right time to create the best return on investment.
DD: Is the Intel® RealSense camera under your watch? Or are you a customer internally for it?
CR: The Internet of Things group is basically a customer for all Intel technologies. We pull from everywhere within Intel to help our partners create the solutions they need. That can be CPUs, RealSense cameras, memory technologies, AI technologies, software tools – anything that Intel does, we can use it for solving IoT challenges. And yes, our customers are using RealSense cameras for helping with object detection, measuring boxes, understanding inventory levels, and even for recognizing someone for an opt-in payment authorization.
DD: As you mentioned, Intel was at the forefront in creating the SDM form factor, putting compute power in the signage unit itself. How are edge computing and container deployment factoring in right now?
CR: We love edge computing, and we love containers, and we’ve spent quite a bit of time evangelizing both. We are working with the industry to create open-sourced containerized environments making it easy to share data between containers as securely as possible. For example, Intel is a contributor to the Edge-X Foundry which is part of The Linux Foundation, and we created the Open Retail Initiative (ORI) to further promote the concept. We think these are very key trends.
That doesn’t mean that an endpoint like Intel SDM sitting behind a digital screen goes away. But now, with edge computing, you can manage and coordinate multiple screens, each with an SDM or some other media player. Coordinated interaction between screens with an edge computer raises some interesting possibilities allowing each endpoint to be independent, yet also being aware of every other endpoint.
DD: What are you seeing around wayfinding or similar applications right now?
CR: I just did a webinar with 22Miles, one of our software partners. They’re taking wayfinding to the next level. For them, it’s not just about helping me get from here to there, but helping me find an area to sit with the fewest people, or a desk to work at that’s been cleaned, and that type of thing.
DD: What haven’t we talked about that’s on your mind on today’s landscape? And what’s your vision for where interactive signage may go in the next few years?
CR: A few things come to mind. One is the self-help trend. We’re a society that wants things now, and we want them quickly, we want them easily, we want them as frictionless as possible. That’s what kiosks and interactive displays are already good at, and we continue to work and find ways to make them even better.
Another point is the idea of displays being easier to change. From a central location, you can ensure everyone has the latest ad creative with the right pricing information. I’ve heard stories where regional managers go out to stores and find three months of their advertising posters in the back room, unopened. Interactive signage doesn’t rely on an attendant or a store clerk to go and put up the new poster. Content automatically gets deployed when things are digital.
Then there’s the need to integrate movement into content. Movement captures attention, much more so than a static picture. Advertising is all about capturing someone’s attention. Once you have their attention, you have the potential of selling them something. But until you capture their attention, you can’t do it. One of the big values of interactive displays is the initial, critical attention-grabbing moment – winning that makes a huge difference for retailers and brands.