Digital Signage is Finding its Voice

by Jeff Hastings, CEO of BrightSign, LLC

There’s a lot of buzz in the industry about how voice integration in digital signage may be the next big step forward in how signage is used to interface with customers. And while I don’t doubt that voice integration will become much more prominent in the years ahead, as an industry we have some interesting challenges to address.

First and foremost, we need to be realistic about how we intend to use voice recognition to engage viewers. At a technical level, voice recognition requires adequate processing power to recognize and respond to voice commands. To economize the amount of computing power required to interpret and appropriately respond to spoken interaction, it’s important to simplify the interaction. For example, instead of making a particular signage installation capable of responding to complex queries, try to hone in on a very specific vocabulary to trigger some of the most common interactions. Complex interaction will someday have its place in digital signage, but not before the foundational work is laid. A well-executed installation with rudimentary yet highly functional interaction is far better for the customer than a complicated interaction with a high rate of failure.

Secondly, the absence of pervasive internet connectivity for all signage devices is a challenge in itself. Especially in retail and other disparate environments, it’s simply not feasible to deliver a live internet connection to all devices in the field. Without an internet connection, it’s not possible to deliver an interactive experience based on live database queries in real time. The solution? Script a handful of very standard interactions that are triggered by common voice commands, yet don’t require a persistent internet connection to complete. This leaves the customer feeling as if they’ve communicated with the signage, when in fact they’ve simply triggered a basic if/then dialogue that’s been carefully scripted and confined to the display and the media player feeding content to the display.

Lastly, as we continue to explore what’s possible with voice-based digital signage, we need to carefully assess what depth of communication is acceptable to general consumers. Someone is likely to interact quite freely with their Amazon Echo or Google Home in the comfort and privacy of their living room; yet people are more prone to a guarded, less emotive form of communication in public settings. For this reason alone, the interactive norms of voice-based digital signage are likely to evolve much differently compared to the evolution of voice-activated smart home devices.

To be clear, voice-activated digital signage is in its infancy and there’s a great deal of room to grow. I don’t expect that conversing with digital signage will become the norm any time soon. But we’re taking small steps in that direction. If managed carefully, we’re going to see a much deeper level of voice-based interaction with digital signage in the years ahead.


About the Author

BrightSign CEO Jeff Hastings joined BrightSign in August 2009 while it was still a division of Roku Inc. In late 2010 with digital signage activities growing so rapidly, BrightSign became a separate firm. The holder of eight U.S. patents, he also has a history of tech industry leadership, including as president of mp3 pioneer Rio.