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August 2012

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The Interactive Display Revolution - The Arduino Brings 3D Advertising to the Real World

by Glen Emerson Morris
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The advertising and marketing industry is about to undergo another computer based revolution. This time, the computer isn't a desktop, tablet or mobile device, it's a microcomputer called the Arduino. Technically speaking, it's called a microcontroller, and like the name suggests, it's a small computer specifically designed to control things.

The Arduino, developed by an open source group in Italy, is at the heart of many of the open source 3D printers and robots so popular in the Maker community, and for good reason. It costs under $65, it's small (2x4x3/4 inches), it's reasonably powerful, can connect to Macs & PCs thru USB and ethernet, it can drive a full color display, it's easy to program and there are hundreds accessories available for it that allow it to sense and control the real world environment. The qualities that make the Arduino so popular for animatronics also give it an incredible potential for interactive advertising.

It's been understood for ages that moving displays tend to attract more attention that static displays. For decades in America, the most spectacular window display of the year would be a department store's Christmas display with a moving Lionel train set, inevitably featuring several of the moving accessories Lionel was famous for. In was, in retrospect, the first generation of animatronic window display, and it really worked. Potential customers of all ages and sexes would stand entranced as crossing barriers automatically came down as trains passed, light beacons turned, cranes lifted and lowered things, logs were processes into lumber, freight loaded and unloaded, and a lot more, if there was the budget for it. And therein lies the problem. A modest Lionel layout can cost a couple of thousand, and an elaborate layout can run north of ten thousand. During the Christmas season, that expense could be justified.

There's no question moving displays work. The problem is that they tend to cost a lot of money. At least they did until now. The Arduino and the many accessories available for it have made it possible to create low cost animatronic and robotic displays, previously only possible at places like Disneyworld.

Over the past few years a strong market has developed for do it yourself robots and animatronics. The servomechanisms, motors and relays that Hollywood special effects departments used to have to custom make, or buy at significant expense, are now commodity priced and widely available. One Hollywood special effects pro has designed an animatronic named Roy the Robot based on the Arduino.

The Arduino's potential goes even further. It cannot only control things in the physical world, it can also sense a number of things about its environment and make decisions on the basis of what it senses. For instance, add on modules enable the Arduino to detect temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, amount of light present, color of light present, voice recognition, speed of objects moving within range, and much, much more.

We're not only about to see a revolution in what displays can be like, we're also about to see a revolution in our ability to return valid metrics about the effectiveness of window displays. Currently, it's difficult to get a figure on exactly how many people actually stopped to watch a window display, or how long they actually spent watching it, without paying someone to stand next to the display and take notes.
  • It's now theoretically possible to build an Arduino system that could return this information. In fact, the metrics that could be collected include:
  • Number of people who walked past the display
  • Number of people who slowed down as they walked past the display
  • Number of people who stopped to watch the display
  • Total time each person watched the display
  • Average time people watched the display
  • Number of people who walked into the store after watching the display for a given length of time
These numbers could be also used to control the presentations automatically to optimize results. For instance, the window display might be programmed to cycle through three different promotions. At the end of specified time, the program would determine what promotion was getting the most attention and then play that promotion either all the time, or at least more often.

The window display could also be programmed to have both short and longer, more detailed presentations. The short presentations would be designed to get people's attention and make them stop to watch the display, and the long presentations would kick in automatically whenever someone actually stopped to watch.

In the near future, properly equipped Arduinos will likely be able to determine the sex and age of every person in range of their sensors. In the not too far off future, Arduinos will be able to judge each person reactions to the window displays. Within a decade, low cost robots will be for sale that can be programmed to make sales pitches that automatically fine tune the sales presentation they make to each individual that gets there attention.

The immediate issue facing the advertising industry is where to get the talent needed to design, program and build interactive displays. Currently, it's possible to major in stage lighting, and this year's graduates in that field might be a good place to start looking. In the future, we can expect most full service ad agencies to offer interactive animatronic and robotic advertising services.

We'll be covering developments in this area on a regular basis. We've purchased a couple of Arduinos (an Uno and Mega2560) and dozens of accessories for it, and we're going to test and review significant new products in the Arduino world on a regular basis. See our Website for details.

Where to buy Arduinos
A large selection of Arduino computers and accessories are available through eBay (the cheapest versions of Arduino computers, of course, are Chinese knockoffs). You can buy the official version of the Arduino at Radio Shack. Make magazine even sells its own brand of the Arduino, both as a stand-alone board, and as in kits that include sets of basic accessories.

Glen Emerson Morris was a senior QA Consultant for SAP working on a new product to help automate compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley law, an attempt to make large corporations at least somewhat accountable to stockholders and the law. He has worked as a technology consultant for Yahoo!, Ariba, WebMD, Inktomi, Adobe, Apple and Radius.

Copyright 1994 - 2011 by Glen Emerson Morris All Rights Reserved ' keywords: Internet advertising, Internet marketing, business, advertising, Internet, marketing. For more advertising and marketing help, news, resources and information visit our Home Page.

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