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Inking the Deal on Low Power
By Anne Fisher, Managing Editor
Barriers to Digital Signage Ubiquity Keep Tumbling
By Anne Fisher, Managing Editor
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engineers guide to Digital Signage, POS, Kiosk & Retail
Inking the Deal on Low Power
Why low power is on display in markets including
transportation, medical, wearables and digital signage
By Anne Fisher, Managing Editor
With so many different markets clamoring to do more with less
power, there is no shortage of diversity in the company’s customer and
potential customer base—everything from the wearable Withings Go
activity tracker introduced at the most recent CES to retail shelf tags
to body-mount applications. In a recent interview Mancini spoke with
me about a number of applications where E Ink solutions are at work.
In addition to its feature of ultra low power on the order
of 5 micro-watts per cm2, E Ink also stands out from LCD
and LED displays, because the ink pigments it uses, similar to those used in print, allow displays to be reflective.
“Our displays reflect the ambient light in the room in the
same way as a printed page,” notes E Ink’s Head of Global
Marketing, Giovanni Mancini. He adds, “During the day,
we require a lot less power because we don’t require a very
strong light to overcome bright sunlight.”
EECatalog: You mentioned that the display can be plastic, which
helps with weight. Is the E Ink display technology one which mil-aero
applications, with their need to address size, weight and power challenges, would find helpful?
ometimes applications find themselves at the intersection of Has Information and Lacks Power. That
intersection is a sweet spot for E Ink, whose electronic
ink display technology only consumes energy when the
particles are moving (familiar for its use in Amazon
Mancini, Head Kindle devices).
of Global
E Ink
Giovanni Mancini, E Ink: [Typically] the requirements in mil-aero
are beyond the temperature range that we would normally operate on.
[However] we have been engaging with some mil-aero customers that
are looking for body-mounted applications. For such applications a
display providing information that won’t shatter—because it’s plastic,
not glass—and which is readable under all conditions, is of interest.
EECatalog: An article we published recently contributed by E Ink’s
partner Global Display Solutions pointed out some of the benefits of
E Ink/e-paper for transportation. It said this solution could make it
unnecessary to run power lines out to remote locations.
Figure 1: More friend than foe. Because E Ink displays reflect
ambient light, sunlight isn’t the foe to E Ink displays that it
is to LCD and LED displays, which have to step up their own
light in order to be readable in bright sunlight. On the friend
side, some E ink displays are able to be powered exclusively
with solar cells. [Courtesy http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/
Mancini, E Ink: Yes. There are places such as remote bus stops, where
deploying digital signage would mean digging trenches and bringing
power out there. Contrast that with the trials that we are running
in London and the U.S. with bus stops, where it’s possible to simply
attach the bus stop to the ground. And you are done. The bus stop
connects with WiFi or some other radio frequency communication
protocol, and, because of our low power consumption, the bus stop is
powered exclusively with solar cells that charge a rechargeable battery
that sits on top of the bus stop.
And in Sydney, Australia with the Roads and Maritime Service (RMS)
we have run trials, and they are now deploying display technology
engineers guide to Digital Signage, POS, Kiosk & Retail
M0 embedded processor, a temperature sensor,
some sort of activity sensor, and a very thin,
very small battery—that gets laminated into
the thin posterboard that the package comes in.
PhutureMed, the prototype product, is simple.
It consists of a box with a display on it. The
sensor is connected to buttons, so every time
you take your medication, you press on the
button, and now you have a record of when
you took your medication. The temperature
sensor can keep track of the medication’s
ambient temperature and indicate exposure
to temperatures outside the range they are
supposed to be in—something very critical for
vaccines that become non-viable if exposed to
the wrong temperature range.
For some individuals answering the questions,
“When did I take my medication and when do
again?” is very difficult. This very simple
Figure 2: In London (above) and the U.S., E Ink is running trials
where bus stop displays featuring low power consumption use solution addresses that problem. Also, that same module can be intesolar cells. [0x010C on commons.wikimedia.org]
grated into a tri-fold blister pack, and now, what you have is a much more
complete solution made possible by a very small embedded system. This
using E Ink in traffic signs that tell you when you can is because in the tri-fold you now have two RFID signatures.
park in certain areas and when you can’t park there.
Some of the traffic regulations in certain areas are One of the two RFID signatures identifies the medication, so the
becoming so complex that it’s becoming impossible embedded system knows when you are supposed to take that medicafor drivers to figure out when they can park there and tion, and it has all the information about it. The second RFID signature
when they can’t. What RMS is looking to do is replace is on the part of the blister pack that has the pill compartments. Every
the parking signs with a very simple E Ink based sign time you pop the pill the RFID signature can identify exactly which
that says, “Yes, you can park here” or “No, you can’t park pill you popped, so now the system knows which pill and when you
here.” The sign is totally powered by solar cells that sit took it, and it keeps a log of that.
in the back of it.
Statistics show that even for very critical medications there is as much
as 30 percent noncompliance or nonadherence to the required regMEDICAL
EECatalog: Can you describe healthcare areas where E imen, and studies have also shown that simply providing the patient
with reminders, essentially alarms to indicate “you were supposed to
Ink display technology has applicability?
take your medication, you haven’t” improves compliance. And just
Mancini, E Ink: We’re working with the Palladio that level of “nudginess” increases adherence to the regimen. It’s posGroup in Italy to provide smart packaging targeting sible because our embedded module uses very little power, so a very
pharmaceutical applications for healthcare. With them, simple, flexible battery can be laminated to the cardboard, and it can
we have developed a display, about 1.4 inches on the last more than a year.
diagonal. Attached to this display is an ARM Cortex-
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engineers guide to Digital Signage, POS, Kiosk & Retail
Barriers to Digital Signage
Ubiquity Keep Tumbling
It’s increasingly a “look ma, no seams!” world for Digital Signage, with chips that conserve
power, GPUs that can do the heavy lifting, automated software platforms and mobile device
interaction—to name but a few of the technologies involved-—all playing a role.
Anne Fisher, Managing Editor
“Seamless” is a word that found its way into more
than one of our digital signage round table participant’s responses, as you’ll note in what we’ve shared
here and in the longer online version. For instance,
AMD is putting its embedded family of accelerated
processing units (APUs), System on Chips (SoCs)
and discrete GPUs to work for digital signage. Katie
Eckermann, Visual Embedded Senior Marketing
Manager in AMD’s Embedded Solutions group,
believes digital signage “will become a seamless part
of our everyday life, to the point where we may not
even realize it’s ‘classic’ digital signage.”
Hussain Ali, Principal at Houston Dynamic Displays,
brings up “seamless” in a slightly different way,
describing technology advances that can bring four
individual media players together into “one seamless
“The form factor is small, the low energy use
translates to low TDP, and the media capabilities
allow for beautiful, dynamic signage.”
“Unexpected” also made more than one appearance. “Digital signage
will emerge in all sorts of places, from the displays we’ve become
used to viewing daily, to those in unexpected situations,” says
Product Manager Jody Smith at BroadSign International. Navdeep
Reddy, CIO & Co-founder, Enplug, agrees. “Digital signage is due
for an explosion in some unexpected places as the forward march
of technology continues to cause the cost of chips and displays to
plummet,” believes Reddy.
Following are edited excerpts from our participants’ responses.
EECatalog: How do the solutions you offer leverage high CPU performance-to-power ratio and/or how do they leverage other supporting
technology strengths?
Katie Eckermann, AMD: AMD’s scalable
portfolio of integrated System on Chips
(SoCs) and discrete graphics solutions
(Figure 1) address the varying performance levels of digital signage and point of
sales (POS) products. By leveraging highperformance x86 cores and world-class
graphics technology, AMD offers SoC and
discrete graphics solutions that can drive
multiple 4K displays and hardware acceleration for video codecs like H.265 (HEVC)
in a power-efficient environment.
Figure 1: AMD Embedded G-Series SOC (System-on-Chip)
[courtesy AMD]
Katie Eckermann, AMD
AMD Eyefinity technology helps to simplify the software by creating a
Single-Large-Surface (SLS) for complex multi-display solutions. These
technologies combined together help to drive the next generation of
rich, interactive digital signage and POS offerings.
engineers guide to Digital Signage, POS, Kiosk & Retail
Navdeep Reddy, Enplug:
Enplug’s device currently uses
the Exynos 5422 SoC. This
is an octa-core ARM based
by Samsung, better known
as the chip that powers the
Galaxy S5 smartphone.
Since its original design
specifications were molded
around a flagship smartphone use case, the chip is built
to use relatively little power (for battery life), while still
offering high levels of performance for media-intensive
tasks like high definition video playback and gaming.
Navdeep Reddy, EnPlug
All the same factors that make such a processor great
on a smartphone make it great for digital signage. The
form factor is small, the low energy use translates to
low TDP, and the media capabilities allow for beautiful,
dynamic signage.
Hussain Ali, Houston
Dynamic Displays: Four
years ago we were doing
some animation and using
flash, and the processor
we recommended at that
time was an Intel® Core™
i5, which had just come
out, and we were thinking
should it be i5 or Intel®
Hussain Ali, Houston
Dynamic Displays
Core™ i7. Today if I have to
create that same rendering,
we are pretty easily running that on an Intel Celeron
processor just because we are using HTML5. It is an
amazing transition that has happened over the years.
Before, anybody who wanted to do video would look at
higher CPU power, because for animation we were limited to using Adobe Flash, which is CPU-intensive as
well—those things are in the past. Now we are looking
more and more toward how a GPU can accelerate the
animation and graphics processing on the client side
rather than pushing everything down from the server
and running it constantly on the media players.
Within HTML5 developments are happening that
are pushing the envelope even further. Let’s say for
a video wall solution I have to display native resolution for each display, I would use a media player that
would have four outputs for each one of those screens
and I would need a really high-end machine to run
all that content at that resolution. With HTML5 I
can do four individual media players and sync them
together to provide one seamless canvas.
“Telehealth is an area of technology that is helping
to bring healthcare access to remote locations
around the world and to individuals who live far
away from primary healthcare facilities. By leveraging and combining the same technology found
in kiosks, consumer devices, and medical equipment, companies are looking to enable more
accessible and accurate healthcare for remote
locations and for remote monitoring. The ability
of processor technologies to drive rich video
conferencing capabilities, with hardware assisted
encoding and decoding of HD video streams,
while also providing high performance computing capabilities in very low power envelopes,
is helping create a new generation of healthcare
technologies and requirements.”
Katie Eckermann, AMD
Software technologies can affect how we utilize hardware on our
end. With regard to the CPUs, AMD does a good job of offloading—
of having a separate graphics card embedded in the motherboards
and does a good job of multiple displays.
EECatalog: Where we will we see what we have been categorizing
as “digital signage” technology pop up? What will fuel its spread
into new markets?
Jody Smith, BroadSign International: Being a versatile medium
containing a host of capabilities, digital
signage will emerge in all sorts of places,
from the displays we’ve become used to
viewing daily to those in unexpected
To fuel the expansion of digital signage
into new markets, familiarity is key.
One way to familiarize the public with
the medium is by making it attentiongrabbing and relevant. Achieving this is a breeze with the right
digital signage CMS. By using an automated software platform,
campaigns can be scheduled with ease and relevant content can be
dynamically generated. During this year’s Olympics (Figure 2), for
example, location-specific medal counts played on digital displays
helped attract attention by educating viewers in a fun way.
Jody Smith, BroadSign
Digital signage is full of tech surprises, enabling media owners to
delight viewers with interactive displays, engage the audience with
cross-platform mobile integrations and implement social media
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engineers guide to Digital Signage, POS, Kiosk & Retail
somebody walks into my store, and
I have a tablet. It’s valid when somebody’s standing behind the station.
Because it is all online, all my menu
information is in one place and I can
utilize that in a lot of different ways.”
Figure 2: 2016 Summer Olympics opening ceremony [courtesy https://
There are companies that not only do
online POS systems, they also allow
you to present menu information to
your customers via tablet in-store—
that same menu information can be
integrated with your website; your
mobile website, or in an app. And they
are displaying that menu information
in the store on larger displays as digital signage. You can walk into a busy
McDonald’s and say, “Look there is a
long line, but there is a kiosk, let me
just put my order through the kiosk.”
So now that is the norm and the online POS is taking
Reddy, Enplug: Digital signage is due for an explosion in some unex- center stage because it did not start there—people were
pected places as the forward march of technology continues to cause adding on the online piece, adding on the other options
the cost of chips and displays to plummet. As early as 2012, Enter- to their typical POS systems, and doing the integration.
tainment Weekly was able to afford embedding what amounted to an But that is the old way of doing it and the question was
entire Android phone into its print magazine to display video and live asked, “Why are we doing it via integration [instead] of
tweets. With the strong hardware trend supporting IoT applications, just creating a product?”
look forward to even more low cost displays of all sizes, and to even
The concept of omni-channel marketing is taking hold in
more creative signage applications.
retail and will drive more and more mobile point of sale
Eckermann, AMD: Digital signage, which traditionally has been systems in a much deeper way than we see now.
a static one-way method of advertisement, will likely in the future
become a seamless part of our everyday life, to the point where we may Eckermann, AMD: Mobile POS is changing the expenot even realize it is “classic” digital signage. As new processor and rience expectation of POS, and is transforming the art
software technologies emerge, it will bring a new wave of higher defi- of selling as well as the act of buying. It is bringing
nition content, reduced form factors and increased user interactivity more of the consumer experience to the process of
that will drive new ways the technology can be used.
Good examples of that today are the new ways being
explored that mobile devices can interact with digital signage to drive personalized user experiences
and help bridge the online to brick-and-mortar store
divide. This trend has the potential to drive innovation into the traditional digital signage world.
EECatalog: How is mobile changing POS and what is
the best way to capitalize on this?
Ali, Houston Dynamic Displays: The concept of
being able to order online has shifted to the point
that mobile has taken center stage. People took the
idea of ordering online and said, “Hey, might as well
set this up for my entire store. And now I have this
mobile-based ordering system, which is not only
valid in-store, it’s also valid online; it’s valid when
engineers guide to Digital Signage, POS, Kiosk & Retail
purchasing, and is a gateway for more
tablet-like technologies and different
form factors, while also widening the
number of POS suppliers due to the
number of POS applications in various
app stores. It is also an enabling tool for
assisted selling, allowing a sales person
to provide multiple options and information prior to the final purchase.
Smith, BroadSign International:
Mobile is changing the POS landscape
by doing exactly what its name implies—
allowing consumers to be mobile while
paying. Convenience encourages consumers to make immediate purchase
decisions and receive instant gratification. Mobile reduces a big barrier to
purchase: the queue and its associated
wait time. Moreover, it enables remote
purchases, increasing efficiency and
accessibility for the consumer.
Retailers can capitalize on this trend by
implementing mobile and POS integration in their retail locations. Whether
it’s enabling shoppers to pre-purchase
items remotely, then pick up in-store
Digital Signage, POS, Kiosk & Retail ONLINE
(we’re already seeing this at Starbucks)
or allowing customers to skip the line at
the brick-and-mortar by purchasing the
desired items through mobile, the main
goal is to ensure the consumer’s path to
purchase is made as smooth and barrierfree as possible.
All that said, even the best mobile POS
technology is irrelevant if users are
unaware of its existence or don’t know
how to use it. This is where digital signage can be used to increase adoption
and awareness.
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