Tensator Virtual Assistant at Dulles Airport
What comes to mind when you thing of the “display of the future”? Is it the hyper-neon displays of Blade Runner or the holograms from Star Wars? The world of digital display always seems to wiggle its way into the bleeding-edge technology of science fiction, but it’s not unwarranted.(Videos)
Turns out, some of those fantastical displays may be seen in your city, airport or shopping mall in the next five years.
But before we delve into the future of digital display, it’s best to understand what the term actually includes. Unsurprisingly, digital display encompasses plenty of devices and installations — from mega-displays at stadiums to the smartphone in your pocket. Even large-form indoor and outdoor displays can come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and have a host of features and peripherals.
“For the lack of a better term, it’s like nailing jello to a wall,” says Joe Gillio, a representative from Casio‘s business projector department. “There are so many shapes and forms, and they’re all viable. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution.”
Still, there are key trends developing in the display world that indicate what the next step is. Mashable spoke with a handful of experts in the world of digital display to understand what’s next in the industry. Take a peek at what our cities could look like in the very near future — and learn about the challenges of installing such sophisticated and breathtaking fixtures.
Airports: The Human Connection
The forefront of digital display has always been at the airport, keeping up with rapidly changing schedules to communicate valuable information about flights, safety and warnings. How do you innovate in a space that’s already filled with so many technological advancements?
One solution is already in place in a number of airports, including Dulles International in Washington, D.C, Dubai International and the Edinburgh Airport. Tensator’s Virtual Assistant communicates guidelines and information via a virtual spokesmodel.
“Obviously airports are huge environments, and there are massive people walking through,” says Keith Carpentier, vice president of business development at Tensator. “They like the idea of this holographic-type creator or ambassador — it makes people do a double-take.”
Virtual Assistant programs, Carpentier explains, are relatively easy to put together: You shoot video of a spokesmodel conveying necessary information, cut a screen to fit the unique shape of the spokesmodel, then run the video through a rear-projector to achieve a seamless look. Virtual Assistants can be connected into the airport’s mainframe for necessary information — for example, if a flight from Germany is landing at a gate near the Virtual Assistant, the program can shift to a German-only language setting. Carpentier says Tensator is looking to incorporate facial recognition technology to help identify passengers and further tailor the Virtual Assistant’s message to convey specialized information.
“We’re all wired for the eye to be drawn to the human shape,” Carpentier explains. “That has been the major reason why it’s so effective. And people like it!”
But the Virtual Assistant isn’t the only hologram-like human display breaking through — Casio’s Virtual Presenter is also making waves in the virtual information sphere. Gillio says the Virtual Presenter is not only equipped with proprietary technology that keeps the system efficient, but also has system to prevent annoyance from repetitive information.
“There are motion sensors built in to the system so it’s not running all the time,” Gillio explains.” When someone walks up, it can activate and turn on, so it’s not running in a loop all the time.”
Gillio adds that the Virtual Presenter has made a huge splash already on the showroom floor, promoting engagement and delighting event-goers with the spectacle of a virtual model.
“People want to be entertained and engaged all the time,” Gillio says. “Terminals that provide information will not go away, but if you can add dynamics to it, it’s definitely more exciting.”
With two big names in the market already, the future of display at the airport will most likely involve a friendly face. While the system is currently marketed with a few video features, the technology can serve as a foundation for even more astounding breakthroughs, such as interactivity. Both systems are expected to see massive rollouts late this year.
Retail: Bold Shapes and Smart Connectivity
The information conveyed in an airport is radically different from messages found in a shopping mall or retail store, so it’s not a stretch to believe that the landscape for digital display is also radically different. Instead of incorporating lifelike displays, retail outlets are looking for bold displays with big brains.
“One of the most interesting projects we’ve seen is Westfield Shopping Mall at Stratford,” says Damon Crowhurst, senior director at Scala. “In there, they went really crazy with large-format displays.”
Interesting displays are key in capturing a shopper’s attention — with an overwhelming ambient environment, it’s hard to cut through the noise. Crowhurst says one of the ways his company has made an impact is by employing micro-tiles — smaller digital screens that can be configured in any possible order to achieve a larger impact. He adds that this form of dynamic display is a step toward moving from the traditional “large screen” formats seen in older digital displays and embracing unique designs to convey information.
“For example, in the London Stock Exchange, there are five fingers of screens made up of a single display tile,” Crohurst says. “Information runs down all these fingers, and come together to display all of a particular company’s details for the stock exchange.”
From oddly-shaped to barely there at all, Universal Display Corporation is currently working on a flexible display that could be bent and shaped in an infinite number of ways.
“A number of our customers are working very actively to produce flexible-based technologies for implementation in the foreseeable future,” says Janice Mahon, VP of tech commercialization at UDC. “Flexible is right around the corner.”
Taking advantage of UDC’s proprietary Flexible Organic LED (FOLED) technology, this transparent screen can be co-opted onto glass displays or bent around standard objects. The Organic LED technology relies on native molecules of color rather than digital filters to create tone, and Mahon says the effects of a flexible display have the potential to be groundbreaking — especially in a large display format.
“I’ve been working for 16 years, and I’m still absolutely amazed and bedazzled when I see a flexible display,” says Mahon. “People have not yet begun to imagine the kind of products that can become possible.”
But screens aren’t getting just a simple cosmetic treatment — they’re getting smarter as well. Crowhurst says that plenty of retail displays are actually becoming intimately linked with a shop’s point-of-sale (POS) system. For example, if you go to a retail register to buy a sweater, the digital display might show you accessories that go well with your purchase or offer a flash two-for-one deal.
“There’s an incredible improvement in content,” Crowhurst says. “We’ve moved into a space where customers are appreciating having custom content through a digital channel.”
Outdoors: Intelligent and High-Impact
But there’s more to the digital display world than indoor signage. In fact, some of our most useful displays are found out on the streets. Ron Harwood spent the beginning of his career at Disney consulting on lighting solutions for theme parks, and he realized there was an underutilized space for information: the lamppost.
“Digital signage held in a lamppost that stores information for public use has great local application,” says Harwood. “But beyond that, there’s a street awareness to help real-time traffic scenarios.”
Out of that revelation came Intellistreets, a smart lamppost with built-in signage. Harwood says that the technology can be retrofitted into any lamppost to provide digital signage, way-finding and alerts for citizens out and about. Already rolled out in small neighborhoods in Michigan and California, Harwood says that one of the features that helps Intellistreets stand out are its peripherals — a camera and a microphone — that can help sense gunshots, floods and other civic obstacles.
“If you look at all the city services that could be accomplished wirelessly and all the budgets that are being accomplished to do these things, including gunshot detection and traffic cameras, we are layering costs that Intellistreets solves with one unit,” Harwood explains.
From the streets to the one of the biggest civic centers in the world — Times Square — displays can be eye-popping. SignExpo Tribeca is one of the companies that helps install grand pedestrian displays for stores in major areas, and it’s known for its exciting rear-projected displays.
“Digital signage is being used more and more — especially in New York — and I think the challenge is in holding people’s attention,” explains Evan Swartz, CEO of Sign Expo.
But it’s not only beauty that can stop a pedestrian in his or her tracks — Swartz says major outdoor displays are becoming more interactive. Imagine walking along a street and being able to touch the windows of a particular store to reveal branded signage or the cost of a window display. SignExpo is already making that fantasy a reality by incorporating motion technology and light manipulation into rear-projected signage.
“Our whole goal is to get people to stop and come in and find out more,” Swartz says. “Motion technology can serve the right company when it fits in and utilizes the space.”
But sometimes, even the most simple ideas can make a big impact while on the streets. ViewSonic’s ePoster technology is a simple, stand-alone product to replace classic posters. The benefit of going digital, says Viewsonic Product Manager Gene Ornstead, is the convenience of conveying information quickly and seamlessly throughout displays.
“There’s much more content available in digital media,” Ornstead explains. “You can run full-HD, beautiful advertising with no involvement of construction crews and structural challenges.”
But above all, Ornstead says, the cost of moving to digital signage for outdoor display, even in a simple form such as an ePoster, can radically change the level of ease and sustainability in signage for companies and cities. Instead of wasting vinyl banners or window treatments, Ornstead says that the point of digital signage is to make a device that lasts.
“Think about how many hours your display will run,” Ornstead adds. “The bottom line is that they’re very reliable.”
Conclusion: How Far Away Is It?
So what does it all mean? With so many different “futuristic” displays out there, is it possible to know what the future holds for the industry? The short answer is yes and no. Different experts indicated different trends as indicative of future movement. But one thing is for certain: Whether we live in a world with flexible micro-displays or fully-interactive and ecommerce-integrated window treatments, the future is looking bright (and electric) in our public areas.