Digital signage has not yet reached its full potential. Large signage networks are difficult to maintain, content-management systems are frustrating to use, and context-aware signage is still in its infancy
Yet the signage market continues to expand, driven by its ability to boost revenue and profits. This creates an important opportunity for signage developers to offer innovative solutions.
A Growing Market
According to MarketandMarkets, the digital signage market will grow at an annual rate of 7.4%, reaching a global size of $32.84 billion by 2023. MarketandMarkets attributes this rise in demand in part to increased interest in customized solutions, including the use of interactive screens.
Particularly important is the potential impact of sensors that recognize context and display more relevant content. For example, a camera integrated with a display can analyze viewer demographics and display more targeted ads. A sign could even go so far as to perform facial recognition and switch from generic content to customer-specific content.
Digital signage also opens new opportunities to provide context- or ambient-aware advertising. For example, temperature sensors can be used to monitor local temperatures and advertise a cold drink on a hot day, or a hot drink on a cold day.
But all this depends on an easily deployable architecture with state-of-the-art device and content management. Also needed is a back-end cloud server to integrate the sensor data and provide the most appropriate content on demand.
Right Content, Right Context, with SnapVDI
Current digital signage systems and software are functional, but are not sufficiently scalable, said Ashley Chen, director of products and IoT at American Megatrends Inc. (AMI). Best known for its firmware, AMI also supplies a variety of software and hardware solutions.
“We found current systems are great for getting one device up and running,” said Chen. “But they weren't really designed to scale.”
To solve the problem, AMI created Eloxsi, a cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution for digital signage. Eloxsi combines a content-management system (CMS) with virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and device management capabilities. The whole platform is managed centrally from AMI's secure servers.
The use of VDI—specifically, AMI's SnapVDI—is central to the solution's scalability. VDI is a variation of the server-client model that virtualizes all of the client OSs within the server environment. This allows use of zero clients, which are endpoints with no local storage.
There are two variations of Exiosi: Persistent VDI gives all users their own desktop image; non-persistent VDI provides a pool of uniform desktops that users can access when needed (Figure 1).
The advantage of this approach is centralized management. Because all of the signage software runs on AMI's servers, there is very little setup or management on the customers' premises. Instead, an administrator can install, upgrade, and refresh hundreds of signage nodes from one central, remote location.
The clients can be a desktop on the premises' LAN, or a dedicated embedded system. The only requirement is that the client be able to run AMI's embedded Linux firmware.
Along with a DVI or other suitable connector, AMI suggests the client have video hardware-acceleration capability, as SnapVDI can take advantage of local video acceleration capabilities. This makes systems based on the Intel Atom® processor E3900 series a good choice, as these chips have video acceleration built in.
Plus, these processors—and the embedded systems that use them—offer greater durability and reliability than a typical zero client. As a result, systems based on the Intel Atom processor E3900 series are a good fit for signage outdoors or in other rugged environments.
The potential drawback to the VDI approach is bandwidth consumption, because the signage content must be played over the network. According to Sudan Ayanam, director of engineering within the SnapVDI division, VDI solutions to date have relied on high-bandwidth networks and often require the addition and/or reconfiguration of complex storage and back-end infrastructure. But SnapVDI can operate with a 1-Gbit/s network so it can use the customers' currently installed infrastructure.
Simplified Deployment and Management
The architecture of Eloxsi reflects best practices AMI developed while consulting on enterprise customer relationship management (CRM) solutions. Specifically, Eloxsi is designed to manage users and permissions in a large multilevel organization.
Take a restaurant franchise as an example. Such an organization has roles including local users, regional and national sales management, and digital display content creators. By giving each role the right access permissions, Eloxsi allows team members to work collaboratively without exposing the signage network to unintended actions.
For device management, AMI uses its own plugins and protocols to simplify device discovery and management. These proprietary protocols grew out of its own work in firmware development.
The back-end servers use Intel® Xeon® Processor E5 series processors, so they are readily scalable, said Chen. Thanks to these high-performance chips, AMI can deliver high-quality content to small and large signage networks alike. Customers can either share a server or have their own dedicated server, depending on their needs.
Making Digital Signage Customer-Aware
The centralized architecture of Exiosi makes it amenable to the integration of sensing and analytics. Each Exiosi client has its own database, owned by AMI but to which each client has its own access credentials and portal. This database can also take direct inputs from sensors, such as cameras and ambient sensing devices, and integrate that data, performing any required analysis.
The back-end analysis may result in the detection of a male or female customer, detect that the local weather is below freezing, and display suitable clothing content on the display as the user approaches.
The options for detection and analysis are many, as are the options as to what to do with more real-time, relevant, and contextually aware customer information. In reality, it's limited only by the imagination, and the drive to enhance the customer experience and relationship.
About the Author
Patrick Mannion is a independent content developer and consultant who has been analyzing developments in technology for over 25 years. Formerly Brand Director for EETimes, EDN, Embedded, Planet Analog and Embedded.com, now part of AspenCore, he has also been developing and executing community-oriented online- and events-based engineer-to-engineer learning platforms. His focus is on connecting engineers to find novel design solutions and focused skills acquisition in the areas of Embedded, IoT, Test and Measurement, RF/Wireless, and Analog & Mixed-Signal Design.Follow on Twitter More Content by Patrick Mannion