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Interactive Signage: Are You Experienced?

The average adult is exposed to more than 600 ads each day, according to Media Dynamics, a New York-based consultancy. That's a lot of ads, making it tougher and tougher for each one to stand out.

CHEAP AND DISPOSABLE

The final layer in Paper Four is the graphics, which can be printed on a variety of materials, such as wallpaper or billboard paper. The only requirement is that the graphics line up with the touch sensors.

There's apparently no limit to the number of sensors that can be embedded or the shape they can take—Paper Four made a grand piano using its technology, with a separate sensor for each of the 88 keys.

The Paper Four system uses an MP3 player that is controlled by a microprocessor monitoring which sensor has been touched and then plays the accompanying audio clip. All of that hardware sits in a base, which powers the MP3 and microprocessor, and can be re-used. For example, in a store, the base could sit at the end of the aisle, with the merchant replacing the Paper Four displayevery week or month as promotions come and go.

In fact, between its use of paper and carbon-based inks, Paper Four is designed for short-term applications such as the walls of trade show booths and wayfinding signage at fairs and other events.

"It's supposed to stay there for a week and then be thrown away," says Gulliksson.

For retailers and other potential users, another possible benefit could be low cost compared to other signage technologies, which is largely a byproduct of using off-the-shelf materials such as wellBoard and established manufacturing processes such as inkjet and roll-to-roll printing. Another potential benefit is resolution. "Printed things normally look much better forthe simple reason that we have much, much better resolution in large formats than you can afford to have on a screen," Gulliksson says.

Gulliksson says that Paper Four is less expensive than an LCD or plasma display, so it could be attractive for applications where basic interactivity is a plus but not to the point that it justifies spending $1,000 or more on a flat-panel, touch-screen display with audio.

That said, he also acknowledges that because it's a new technology, Paper Four is still at the top of its cost curve, making it far pricier than traditional printed signs. Eventually, he believes, it will become more competitive with conventional, mute cardboard displays. The cost of Paper Four—and in turn its market potential—hinges on volume: The more displaysthat the company can produce, the more the cost drops.

Volume could get a boost if the company succeeds in scaling the technology down, possibly as small as product packaging. For example, a pharmaceutical company could use Paper Four to create packaging that speaks drug information to complement what's printed on the box. For now, Gulliksson says, "It has its benefits, and it has its drawbacks as well."

Tim Kridel is a freelance writer and analyst who covers telecom and technology based in Columbia, Mo. He can be reached at tim@timkridel.com.



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