The Digital Signage Insider

Alternatives to traditional kiosk and digital signage displays

Published on: 2004-07-09

When most people (at least the ones I talk to) think about interactive kiosks, they immediately conjure images of metal or laminate cabinets like those provided by Affordable Kiosks, White Mountain Solutions or KIS, housing some sort of computer, and input peripherals like an industrial keyboard or touchscreen. When asked about digital signage, these same people will talk about plasma screens, LCD displays and even scrolling LED signs. But a new class of input and display devices is emerging that challenges these industry workhorses, and further blurs the line between kiosks and digital signs.

The first of these new technologies has been pioneered by companies like 3M and Hitachi, and is often called through-glass or on-glass projection. From Hitachi's AirSho webpage: "The system makes clear 60" images appear on the exterior side of an ordinary window by using the projector, installed inside the room or store, to project the images onto the transparent screen, which is attached to the window pane. This display is an excellent way to capture the attention of passing people, which makes it ideal for a wide range of applications, from advertising and promotion to information provision and displaying attractions." 3M has a slightly different take on the technology, using polymer microbead film to prevent image distortion. (For the more technically minded, and I mean really technically minded, 3M has a great Light Management site describing its many innovations in this area). The current solutions are fairly expensive, and require high-end projectors to produce the best quality images, but claim to be visible in broad daylight and can create screen "canvases" as big as 100" square on a nearly completely transparent glass surface. Less expensive polarizing projection screens are also available, which aren't transparent, but still focus light to appear brighter and more visible in daylight.

Bringing large-format interactivity into the mix are companies like NextWindow and dve, as well as industry heavyweights Elo and 3M Touch Systems (Microtouch). Each has developed some sort of through-glass touchscreen that can turn a large, flat, glass panel (say a store window) into a touchscreen surface. Combined with a plasma screen mounted behind the window, or one of the aforementioned on-glass projection systems, this kind of technology could allow for attention-getting, interactive displays that keep all of the electronics and breakable parts away from the user. Ok, I guess somebody could still through a brick through the storefront or use some hydrofluoric acid to etch the glass, but barring that a malicious user would have no way of getting at your digital display from the outside.

Once again, we find ourselves at a point where it becomes difficult to determine where a true digital signage project ends, and an interactive kiosk project begins. Luckily, powerful software like FireCast kiosk and digital signage software exists that can easily handle both and even switch back and forth between the two. I think it will be interesting to see how other companies who have traditionally focused on either an interactive kiosk solution or a pure digital sign solution will start to cope with the influx of projects that need to be able to blend the strongest qualities of each of these technologies.

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