How embedded computing could change visual communications
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By James Matthews-Paul
6 July 2012
Advantech's Internet of Things envisions a global technology structure through which data can be collected, disseminated and acted upon intelligently
Embedded computing is not a phrase synonymous with all that is exciting in modern technology trends. In the world of digital signage, it is the driving force of the media player – the devices which control scheduling, playback and reporting across screens and networks. But it refers to the components that drive a vast bandwidth of industrial systems, such as networking and automation, in fields as diverse as logistics, healthcare and the military – and is a field which, in 2010, was worth some £1.33bn [$2.07bn].
It could therefore come as a surprise that Advantech, the modest and under-marketed maker of players and kiosks, grew its market share from 20.5 to 25.5 percent between 2009 and 2010. To be fair, it has a tough sell: components are not luminous and eye-catching in the way that, say, a 52" display may be. Yet a new partner strategy, a sensible approach to channel organisation and a complex but particular vision for technology development in the next ten years could very well see this company achieve a particular, unseen ubiquity – and the UK is its largest target market.
Advantech's vision is of an Intelligent Planet, driven by world-wide interconnectivity through cloud-based data sharing and responsive, scalable computer intelligence that will permeate our digital atmospheres. Fabrizio del Maffeo, the company's EmbCore and iServices director for Europe, points to the move to IPv6 as a forward indicator of this trend: if we are to connect all the devices in our lives, from watches and cameras through to manufacturing arrays, we will need more definite IP addresses to identify and transmit the right data to the right places.
The company's ambition is to create the devices and structures to support the 'modern architecture of communications', as del Maffeo says. In the next ten years Advantech suggests – but does not decree – that a future hardware landscape will include robotics and reactive computing, and these applications will require a new approach based around integration, scalability, remote management and seamless data delivery. Instead, Advantech's mission is to create the framework on which the connectivity can hang, incorporating sensors, data gathering, instrumentation, the interconnectivity between them, and the cloud-end intelligence required to take advantage of this infrastructure. The company calls this the 'Internet of Things', moving us from 'the familiar people-to-people networks' or 'machine-to-people information', to intelligent, automated data exchange not limited by the current computing paradigm.
Beyond the conceptual level, then, what implication does this have for the world of signage? A radical one is inferred. Digital signage propositions are winning over their analogue counterparts because of the speed of update and the potential for a two-way conversation with the audience, increasing reach and, ultimately, loyalty to the communication method. The current problem is in consumer adoption, exemplified perfectly by the QR code: marketeers love them and most people know what they are, but nobody can be bothered to download the app. There is a layer of investment – time – required to engage with the information. Many of my friends, for example, would rather a shortlink. There is also the simple fact that advertising is seen as staid, not useful; we are attuned to blanking it out.
Yet, if the delivery system were simpler, the information timely or advantageous or fun, consumer engagement would be vastly increased and campaigns infinitely more successful. Smartphones are already control devices for some signage installs; if they become the centrepoint of one's automated home, the mechanism for automated transport and a technology that enables rapid human decision-making based on environmental intelligence, the nascent applications of which are already in existence, they will become as universal as email, or the telephone. While Advantech has anticipated this at the industrial level, its roadmap suggests that it has thought through the ramifications for consumers and the picture of modern life in fewer than ten years' time, too.
Signage is already becoming social, reactive and intelligent, as evidenced by the top-end campaigns delivered by the winners of this year's LoveContent Awards. It has long been an intrinsic part of our urban and rural lifestyles, with its core function being to provide vital data to inform core human decision-making processes: where to go, what to do and when to do it. Advantech may never be the public-facing corporation that HP or Intel is, but it doesn't need to be: all it needs to do is to enable an intelligent planet, and there can be no doubt that it has foreseen the role of visual communications in that not-so-distant future.
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