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Green Kiosks Interact with Mobile Phones, Part 2

Dec 23, 2008 12:00 PM, By John W. DeWitt


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At Mesa Riverview shopping center in Mesa, Ariz., shoppers use EcoMedia's touchscreen kiosks, powered by Aerva software, to select coupons and have them sent via text message to their mobile phones.

At Mesa Riverview shopping center in Mesa, Ariz., shoppers use EcoMedia's touchscreen kiosks, powered by Aerva software, to select coupons and have them sent via text message to their mobile phones.

EcoMedia’s signage and kiosks at Kimco Realty’s shopping centers link out-of-home media with two other growing trends: the greening of business and the interaction of promotions with consumers’ mobile phones. Powered by Aerva’s software and network infrastructure, EcoMedia kiosks—such as those deployed this year at the Mesa Riverview shopping center in Mesa, Ariz.—run environmental programming, generate ad revenue to fund local green initiatives, and dispense environmentally friendly coupons via text message to shoppers’ mobile phones. Digital Signage Update continues its conversation (see part 1) with Sanjay Manandhar, CEO of Cambridge, Mass.-based Aerva, about the challenges of rolling out to 20 additional shopping centers and what’s next for interactive applications between mobile phones and digital signage.

SVC: What were the integration and implementation barriers you’ve had to overcome in rolling out the EcoMedia kiosks for Kimco?

Manandhar: Doing it in small scale is not that amazing. The challenge is when you do network, IP-based interactive kiosks on a large scale. For example, how do you get the data to the right place accurately? Then there is the whole integration with mobile—those challenges involve dealing with cellular carriers, getting approvals to text on their networks, etc.

Increasingly, it’s about reliability. As networks grow, our clients want to make sure they are robust, that there’s no down time. And sometimes quite mundane things matter. For example, customers want to use their own computers, but we have to warn them that these computers are not meant for 24/7 operation for five years. They need to deploy devices that can withstand that type of operation. If there’s a defect in the field, when there is a hardware problem, we cannot help them remotely—and a truck roll is very expensive—so reliable hardware is important.

For our part, reliable software is important. We have monitoring systems, can do remote restarts, etc., but that becomes challenging as the number of screens in the field goes up. A lot of the monitoring is not human—a lot of it is automatic and self-correcting, and we also do a lot of predictive monitoring diagnostics. For instance, a lot of players use hard drives that will wear out in five years. But we know they will fail and prepare for that—if we predict a failure, we replicate the player’s hardware and ship a new one out before it actually crashes.

Where are things heading in terms of interactive kiosks and applications that link signage and mobile phones?

We’re looking at a much tighter relationship with other Web 2.0 and social networking applications. Up to now, we’ve been developing our own applications for all our customers, but we want to open up our API [application programming interface] to experts who can come up with applications and widgets and we can monetize that.

A simple widget might be an RSS [really simple syndication] widget. Another might be a Flickr widget. With our software, you do the scheduling—for example, you might want the RSS feed to change from A to B to C in segments of the day, so you put in a widget, give it space and time. Segment A will grab this URL, have this background and foreground.

And the same with Flickr. Say you want to have connectivity so that all the photos that are uploaded are shown temporarily—not really transferring to the player’s hard drive, just using them in memory. Say you shoot some pictures from a bar party, just link to the pictures—you don’t need to move the Flickr content, you just need to connect to it, and it becomes highly scalable and a way to make fresh content happen. Moreover, the content creator and the person managing the screen real estate don’t need to be the same person.

We’re also working on a lot more mobile content. We’re doing merchandising applications, where consumers send a tag as a keyword to get more information. And those can be lead generation applications—a text from the consumer becomes an opt-in to get a call or be sent more information. It can also just be relationship-building. We have customers who run networks in doctors’ clinics who do have patient satisfaction surveys: “How was your visit today?”



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