THE ROLE OF SENSORS IN DIGITAL SIGNAGE

by Florian Rotberg | invidis consulting

Harrods opened its new Wine & Spirits section in the Food Halls of the world’s most famous department store. The Wine & Spirits department is an exciting shop window for Harrods’ excellence. It stands out quite clearly from all the other retailers in the world. Shoppers can sample and purchase rare vintages in a glamorous, elegant atmosphere inspired by the Art Déco style. It is an act of homage to The Great Gatsby.

Here a shiny black-and-white marble floor joins forces with whitewashed oak wall panels dotted with copper design elements. Common wisdom would require integrating dozens of sensors as the ultimate form of interactivity and smart digital retail concepts. The more sensors, the more complex the concept the better. But less is often more – that is especially the case in luxury digital signage concepts.

Across the Atlantic Amazon is heading the other way. Amazon Go convenience stores are filled up to the rim with sensors enabling customers a checkout-less shopping experience. The ceiling and shelves are covered with hundreds of sensors tracking every instore movement of the customer and pick-up of merchandise. Regardless of the use-case and sensor penetration, sensors are becoming increasingly commodity in digital signage.

Most popular use-cases in retail are

  • Lift & Learn
  • Approach detection – measuring distance (value-alternative to Kinect)
  • Guiding by LED lighting (matrix)

Microsoft Kinect was the most popular sensor in digital signage, even originally developed for Gaming (Microsoft Xbox). The solution was discontinued in 2017 after selling 35 million units and since then many, much cheaper and smaller sensors have become available. On a side note, Microsoft resurrected Kinect at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February 2019. The new Kinect has shrunk the external sensor into a stand-alone peripheral with ample computing power. Microsoft has designed this new Kinect to be primarily used with Azure, the company’s cloud-based service, for computer vision and speech models.

The only other sensor brand name is Intel’s stand-alone product Realsense. One of the hidden champions in Intel’s product portfolio the sensors have become enormous popular with autonomous driving. Making it very hard for digital signage integrators to get access to the value-priced sensor series, as the vast majority is bought by the automotive industry.

So much about Kinect and Realsense. Today’s sensors mainly integrated in digital retail are standard close-range sensors with an operating range of a few centimeters. They usually resell for a few Euros and are widely available. The challenge with sensors in general is not the hardware itself, but the platform to connect and efficiently manage the data recorded by the sensors. Especially as more and more sensors are becoming wireless.

Eindhoven (NL) based Nexmosphere developed a low-cost and easy to deploy and manage sensor platform quite popular with digital signage integrators. The Dutch experts offer light, touch, video, audio, pick-up & presence sensors for customized experiences controlled by a single platform. While remotely managing sensors and data can be provided by platforms like Nexmosphere, another challenge is more difficult to master.

According to Nexmosphere’s Hubert Van Doorne digital signage concepts are too often build on unrealistic and not necessary precision expectations. Concepts are created and tested too often in labs and not in real life. For example, sensors need only to detect certain ranges – it’s like temperature. It’s more important to understand if it’s generally cold or hot to playout relevant content. Is it relevant to the customer experience that the temperature drops by 0.2 centigrade? Not really. But integrators tend to overengineer sensor driven projects. While they spend 50 Euros on sensors, they spend 50.000 Euros on control systems around it. The drive for precision is mostly an overkill for customer journeys while it can be business critical for industrial applications.

The value of sensors is to enhance the experience for the 80%, not optimizing it for all possible exceptions. With a sensor invest of 500 Euros integrators can gain twice the experience for customers.

This article is an excerpt from the invidis digital signage yearbook 2019/20. Free download available at https://invidis.de/magazin-download-archive/