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Showing at The International American Toy Fair: Tangible, Touchable Semantic Technology

By   /  February 17, 2012  /  No Comments

The coolest thing at the 109th International American Toy Fair in New York City this week might have been the Lazer Tag Blaster or the World of Warcraft version of Monopoly. Or, for semantic tech aficionados, it would have been Uma’s semantic Skin multitouch display installation. Even the Power Rangers were getting into it (see photo).

Here is the marriage of semantic technology with interactive signage and multi-touch displays, RFID technology, Intel’s Audience Impression Metrics suite, and social media integration. It is, as Christian Doegl, founder and CEO of uma, an example “where semantics gets tangible.”  And touchable by everyone.

For the Toy Fair, Uma got access to the exhibitor database, itself complete with structured metadata such as company name, location on the floor, and Twitter handle. “From this we can build up a semantic database connecting all different databases to the system,” says Doegl.

Uma has its own semantic content curator engine that can contextualize data from additional repositories, such as a vendor’s internal product database, to deliver appropriate accompanying information. So, in addition to multiple users being able to find out where a vendor’s booth is at the show or what events it has scheduled, they also can access other data it wanted to make available on the three-meter touch screens. “The semantic engine produces a very easy to use interface where they can simply connect all different databases or social channels, the content gets aggregated and semantically annotated, and then is brought into context and presented automatically on the wall,“ he says. From there users approaching the display wall can touch their way through the content.

Doegl says the company’s heritage goes back to ontological search in the late 90s, and today incorporates frameworks such as the General Architecture for Text Engineering (GATE) for information extraction, semantic annotation and ontological information, as well as its own proprietary technology for its semantic database.  While the Toy Fair exhibit presents a nice showcase, Doegl says the company targets several scenarios for the technology, including for use in corporate communications and retail sites. For example, a sports retailer in Germany with a portfolio of over 40,000 products uses the technology to provide information about them all to consumers, including the items that it doesn’t actually have in stock in the store but can order for the buyer.

Why does semantic technology matter to interactive displays for any of these scenarios? It comes down to economics, such as the costs of fielding a team for digital signage displays and producing extra content to populate them – content that already likely exists somewhere in the corporate vault but in a sprawl of formats. That is, content that‘s not immediately accessible for use in a multitouch display system without the aid of semantic entity extraction and data integration. “We leverage existing content assets to bring them into context, and in a vivid and playful way present them to customers,” Doegl says. “It’s all about data, what gets displayed on the display. Data about and for the customer – -to get that meaningful data out to your audience. That’s a very important aspect, especially if you then think about how much effort it is for someone to play out content. Do you have to produce special content every day or week, which is a huge cost factor. You use existing content and lower that cost factor.”

And it’s in that presentation of data to the customer or other party where so many of the other technologies come into play, to enable not only meaningful data but personally meaningful data. The integration of Intel’s  AIM suite informs a client, such as a retailer, what target groups are in front of a display to tailor content to them (gender, age, etc), based on facial detection cameras. Also information that might be affiliated with an RFID-equipped loyalty card or NFC-enabled cell phone held up to the display  can inform exhibited content.

It also integrates social media data such as Twitter feeds. And at the Toy Fair, Uma also offered special packages that exhibitors could take advantage of, such as one that a game developer purchased for letting users play HTML5 apps on the wall. “It became kind of an app store wall,” syas Doegl.


About the author

Jennifer Zaino is a New York-based freelance writer specializing in business and technology journalism. She has been an executive editor at leading technology publications, including InformationWeek, where she spearheaded an award-winning news section, and Network Computing, where she helped develop online content strategies including review exclusives and analyst reports. Her freelance credentials include being a regular contributor of original content to The Semantic Web Blog; acting as a contributing writer to RFID Journal; and serving as executive editor at the Smart Architect Smart Enterprise Exchange group. Her work also has appeared in publications and on web sites including EdTech (K-12 and Higher Ed), Ingram Micro Channel Advisor, The CMO Site, and Federal Computer Week.

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