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MediaTile and partners latest to take a crack at two way video conferencing on the retail floor

When there is no chatting going on, the panel can play full screen ads

The hyperbole about this is about as over-torqued as could be imagined, but overlooking that a prototype being shown off this week at CES by MediaTile and Alcatel/Lucent is nonetheless interesting.

The companies have partnered to demo an interactive station that lets shoppers talk through remote video conference with product experts who, presumably, work for the vendor.

The HumanKiosk utilizes 4G/LTE technology to deliver a live, 2-way in-store video session between a consumer with a product question, and a representative of that product or service. For example, a customer seeking information about a new product can simply tap the touch screen to establish a live visual and audio connection with a product expert who is located virtually anywhere around the globe.  

Setting up the fully integrated solution requires nothing more than accessing a standard power outlet. It can be easily deployed into any retail, service or other locations that consumers regularly visit. With 4G/LTE technology, no on-site networking infrastructure or IT services for deployment or management are required to set up and use the solution, making it ideal for organizations to deploy virtually anywhere.

When there is no chatting going on, the panel can play full screen ads.

HP was demo'ing essentially the same concept at the Digital Signage Show in New York a couple of months ago, and a Toronto-area company, BTVPlus, had something like this (called Ask Clive) at least three years ago that they showed off at the Digital Signage Expo in Chicago. There are others around, as well. It took me about 45 seconds of Google time to find concepts dating back to 1995 and current proiducts by companies like this one.

So this is no breakthrough, and this is no game-changer, as the release asserts.

But, the design notion of something that can just be rolled into place in a store, plugged in and be ready to go has its attraction for things like new product launches. It beats the crap out of a screen hanging from the ceiling like a basketball backboard. It would be a LOT more interesting if it was designed in such a way that it could be merchandised, so there was a direct correlation between the product for sale and the interactive screen.

Setting that aside, and the overheated hoo-hah about using 4G (this year's emerging buzzword), the open question about this sort of application in retail is whether it will get used, and by whom. There are many, many times when the sales associate on the retail floor has not a clue about the product I am interested in, but do I want to stand in front of a screen in a busy shop, holler at it and strain to hear what the expert is telling me (remember, these are intended for big, busy stores, not libraries)?

Not convinced.

The whole 3G and 4G thing may actually work against these sorts of applications because of the now millions and millions (and more to come, with Google's Nexus phone released) of people walking around with high-speed pseudo-PCs in their pockets and purses. You can look at a product and decide: "Do I want to talk to an "expert" who will be trained in trying to close my sale, or do I want to whip out my high-speed mobile smartphone and do my own, independent research based on the piles of independent opinions available online?"

Retailers may not be all that happy about it, but real time product research, right on the shop floor, is here to stay.

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Dave Haynes

Dave Haynes is one of the most seasoned professionals in the still young digital signage industry, with deep experience in everything from business development and sales to technical operations, product development and start-up strategy and fundraising. These days he is extensively working on business development and consulting for an industry big on enthusiasm but still a lot short of experience and know-how.