Breakdown: Lego’s “Digital Box”, an Augmented Reality Kiosk

Augmented Reality provides brands with an engaging experience that merges both the digital and the real world. This 30 second video shows how a 3D animation on the product box enabled me to understand the assembled product.

Lego’s “Digital Box” Provides Customers with an Interactive 3D Digital Experience
This weekend, I went to the local Lego store here in Silicon Valley (Hillsdale) to see a practical version of Augmented Reality. I was previously briefed by Metaio, the technology vendor that empowers the software for the Augmented Reality kiosks called, Digital Box. This store, outfitted with a kiosk with a screen and webcam gives instructions on how to show the contents of any box assembled in real time.   Not all of the boxes were equipped (I tried the Star Wars line with no available) but was able to grab this lego kit of a bus, hold it in front of the kiosk.  You can see that the contents ‘assembled’ on the screen, and came to life as a pre-set animation, as I rotated the box, the virtual animation would move with it, giving the illusion that the bus was actually moving over the box.

Breakdown: “Kiosk” Style Augmented Reality

Description Accessing Augmented Reality experiences from a built in camera and screen at a physical location
Market Maturity Embryonic, this market has physical and software barriers, as well as low consumer awareness and adoption.
Vendors Metaio
Requirements Kiosk, webcam, encoded experiences.
Opportunities Increase customer engagement in store, increase intent to buy and reduce sales costs. An immediate opportunity is for retail, small business, tourism, and consumer packaged goods industries. Secondly, media, gaming, home and business design, and mobile industries should take note and investigate this space.
Challenges Consumers have limited awareness to AR space, and are unaware of the kiosks. Interaction is clunky and requires practice, graphics are effective –but not refined
Benefits Brands that deploy AR in 2010 will benefit from “cool” factor being an early adopter.
Risks Expensive deployment to create animations, and put kiosks in all locations.
Verdict Innovative, but a victim of ‘shiny object’ syndrome as the business benefits aren’t directly indicated. Heavy overhead required to deploy hardware and software, as well as moderate learning curve for consumers. To truly become a mainstream channel, AR within stories should be accessed by mobile devices –not kiosks. Secondly, existing web content should be ‘linked’ to existing products that include additional videos, support, and consumer generated content. Brands that have complex consumer packaged goods should deploy in stores, or products that have an heavy education or support cost and can’t deploy in house sales or service folks.

Augmented Reality Not Ready For Primetime –Yet Promises Real World Engagement
The above matrix is just a breakdown of ‘Kiosk” style of Augmented reality, however let’s look at this space as a whole. This technology is in its infancy, the animations are still simple, don’t have a lot of interaction beyond rotation, and require moderate ability to line the product up directly with the web cam. Furthermore, there are barriers to entry as most people didn’t even know about this feature in the store till I showed them, and not every product was outfitted with the ability to display the interactions.

Despite the fact that this is an emerging technology with years ’till maturity, there are three major business opportunities:

  1. Extending the web to the real world. Reusing existing digital marketing and support content (from the web) in the physical world will add mileage to marketing assets.  Consumers can access related existing content such as brochure facts, customer reviews, or web based demos that already exist wherever they are, without looking for a URL.  The camera lens will identify the product, then serve up the context information with a click of a button.
  2. Greasing marketing and sales process. Creating an engaging experience with customers near point of sale reducing sales costs through sales aids or increasing interest. Animations and virtual experiences can be connected with any device from anywhere, triggering demos, how-to videos, or even 3D media that would entice a prospect to spend more time, or purchase the product.   Essentially, this means a virtual sales person or guide could assist any consumer from anywhere at anytime.
  3. Ubiquitous information with mobile devices. Aside from kiosks in stores, we should eventually expect mobile devices to be equipped with the capability to instantly bring up internet information about any product in real-time.  Expect Google to develop a product that maps physical products with their online information, making them yet the middleman for internet advertising –again. Furthermore, it gets really interesting when a brand can ‘hijack’ another company’s brand by creating augmented reality experiences on the boxes of their competitors.