Microsoft, Intel Unveil Sign That Tracks Shoppers

Microsoft and Intel have joined efforts to produce digital signage technology for the retail industry.

On Monday, the two companies announced a strategic alliance toward that end at the National Retail Federation's Annual Convention & Expo. On the show floor, the two companies are showing a "proof-of concept" version of a new digital sign, which is designed to advertise products and help shoppers find merchandise in a store.

The digital sign consists of two screens, each seven feet by six feet. The left screen is an interactive "holographic" glass panel that users can touch and use to find items. The right screen is a liquid crystal display, showing a graphic. Microsoft posted a video of the digital sign concept at this page.

In addition to shoppers watching and using the sign, the sign can size up the shoppers. Microsoft and Intel's prototype uses software from an unnamed third party to assess the shopper's height and gender, according to Irena Andonova, director of product management for Windows Embedded enterprise, in a telephone interview. The sign can then present options to the user, such clothing choices. It can send any discount offers on an item to the user's mobile device.

Intel describes the sign as being capable of "anonymous video analytics," in which a built-in camera tracks the user's age, gender and the time of day. The information can be sent to advertisers for analysis. The Microsoft-Intel proof-of-concept sign doesn't scan irises, as in the movie, "Minority Report," according to Andonova. She also said that Microsoft has not explored the use of face-scanning technology in the sign.

Both companies are showcasing their latest products in the prototype device. The sign uses the Microsoft Windows Embedded Standard 2011 operating system running on 2010 Intel Core i7 processors. Intel announced this new processor series just last week, which includes i7, i5 and i3 chips.

Intel's new chips integrate high-definition graphics inside the processor. They also feature a power-saving technology that can shut down processing cores, or reduce power consumption, as needed. The chips are based on Intel's Nehalem design, according to that company's announcement.

Microsoft's Windows Embedded Standard 2011 is a modular operating system, based on Windows 7, that allows developers to include only the portions of the OS they need for a particular device. The OS enables touch and gesture interactions on a touchscreen, along with panning and zoom. In addition, Windows Embedded Standard 2011 can be used with other products in the Microsoft stack, such as Active Directory and System Center, enabling remote management of devices. Andonova said that the OS enables light-sensing technology, allowing developers to design devices that power down in the darkness.

Microsoft announced Windows Embedded Standard 2011 in September, and the OS can be tried out now as part of Microsoft's community technology preview effort. The final embedded OS product is expected be available in the first half of this calendar year, according to Andonova.

Microsoft and Intel are planning to implement partner training programs, as well as joint marketing and sales efforts, to meet the needs of the retail industry. Digital signs based on their technologies will be available sometime in "the second quarter of 2010," according to the companies' announcements. Several device manufacturers are involved in the effort, including HP, NCR and Micro Industries.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.


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