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Digital Signage: The next wave of ambient interactivity

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Photo courtesy Prysm

By Michael Mascioni
Ambient interactivity—i.e. the embedding or direct integration of interactive tables, windows or other dynamic features into the physical environment—has become a more significant part of the digital signage industry in recent years. Not long ago, it represented a remote outpost of the art world that was only just emerging as a tool for out-of-home (OOH) advertising, entertainment and education (see Sign Media Canada, November 2013). Today, many projects have been launched around the world that allow the public to control lighting, sound and/or other ambient effects and, with regard to digital signage, create or customize on-screen content in real time, e.g. using collaborative video walls.

The scope of ambient interactivity in public places will continue to expand dramatically over the next five years as a myriad of current and new technologies combine to enable more vivid, dynamic and extensive experiences for users.

This trend is—and will be—particularly important in attracting younger audiences, who are accustomed to an ‘always on’ digital technology lifestyle. They have high expectations for continuous and fluid interactivity, shifting from one digital device to another effortlessly and seamlessly.

In the future, a wider range of ambient interactive ‘forms’ will allow the public to change the aforementioned effects and content more frequently and in more diverse ways. Examples will include laser poles, columns and wands, gesture-control armbands and haptic feedback controllers.

Triggering content
Among the key developments in the evolution of ambient interactivity for public spaces is
the automated display of content specifically geared to the audiences at those locations and their preferences. One such manifestation is the concept of ‘reflective digital signs,’ which gauge their audiences’ preferences for particular content via facial recognition techniques.
A screen in a museum, for example, might display youth-oriented content when it detects the presence of children.

Another iteration of this technique that may become very common in the near future is the detection of content being viewed by passersby on their smartphones, tablets and other devices. Along the same lines, the detection of audience interest in specific content will also likely extend beyond a particular location to other locations, via networked media.

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Already, developers have integrated large-screen interactive displays into tables and walls with content that is ‘activated’ by smaller devices like smartphones. The large-format displays are also often modelled after these familiar consumer devices, to help make the public feel comfortable using them, but can be further enhanced to deliver more immersive experiences.

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