The Internet of Things has unleashed a new world of connectivity, and electronic kiosks are finding new applications. Changing technology is creating opportunities for kiosks like never before.
Interviews with kiosk industry leaders confirm that the industry is not missing a beat staying on top of new opportunities. The new capabilities will bring kiosks to more markets and create additional uses in some existing markets.
Evolving verticals include virtual health care, supplies dispensing, video conferencing, purpose-driven devices, "endless aisle" inventory management, ecommerce fulfillment and more.
"With the proliferation of small, open source microcontrollers and microcomputers, the self-service field is poised to enter new territory of interconnectivity," said Marshall Nye, development operations manager at Advanced Kiosks.
Before, the process of controlling hardware with a computer was tedious and very hardware specific, causing custom solutions to be both costly and cumbersome, he said.
"With the rise of more forward thinking companies developing controllers with comprehensive APIs (application program interfaces), the barriers to entry have been greatly lowered, allowing us to find more and more innovative applications of kiosks," he said.
Additionally, with mobile based environments growing, transactions that used to be reliant on kiosks or face-to-face interactions can now be done on a user's phone.
"I can see how kiosks would develop a more symbiotic relationship with mobile interfaces as a result of the increasing rate of mobile use in self-service based tasks," he said.
Nye said he sees the niche of self-service evolving to kiosks interacting with the machinations of a facility, while at the same time leveraging cloud services that can sit in everyone's pocket.
"Customers can make their facilities part of the IoT, lowering overhead and improving flexibility," he said.
Kiosks find more applications
The kiosk market is expanding into nearly every industry, said Steve Latham, CEO of Banyan Hills Technologies, a software provider, integrator and consultant focusing on the kiosk industry.
"This expansion directly correlates with the need for more advanced and intelligent kiosk management platforms that help the kiosk operator obtain more visibility into the health, trends and effectiveness of their implementation," he said. "Kiosk platforms are becoming increasingly more intelligent in their ability to use historical data obtained through customer transactions to predict future outcomes for the operator."
Latham expects businesses to replace more people with machines to improve the customer experience.
"We're already seeing this happen. Rising wages and economic pressures are forcing companies to focus more on automation," he said. "We are going to see that happen more and more in hospitality and health care."
Video conferencing goes versatile
Video conferencing is a prime example of how kiosks are finding new applications. Although the technology isn't new, it is now being integrated with kiosk technology.
"Video conferencing happens both within kiosks and without," said Laura Miller, director of marketing at KioWare Kiosk Software. "You can have a video conferencing opportunity that doesn't require it to be secured on a kiosk. However now, with KioWare, you can secure your kiosk and then add video conferencing to it so that you now have a video conferencing kiosk."
KioWare developed its KioCall video conferencing app after first trying to tie into other video conferencing solutions.
"What we found is that something was always missing, either the quality of the call wasn't good, the costs from the video conferencing provider was extravagant, (or) they didn't integrate well with the kiosk," she said.
There are numerous possible applications for video conferencing across all major industries, Miller said.
It can also be used to centralize receptionist service, for example. Customers or employees can contact the appropriate person on demand by walking up to the kiosk and pressing a button. Receptionists in different locations within the building can then direct people to the appropriate office or staff member.
Companies will be able to provide customers with a face-to-face meeting with a sales expert who is knowledgeable on complex technical products.
HR departments could benefit by having kiosks in private areas for employees to ask questions about benefits, and financial institutions can better manage staffing and allow for drop ins without having additional specialists available at each branch. Financial advisers would also be accessible to customers remotely via video kiosks. Exhibitors at trade shows will be able to provide visitors to their booth access to their entire team without needing to send large teams to a trade show.
"(They) provide you an opportunity to serve your customers in remote locations," Miller said.
Technology cost declines
One factor supporting the change is the declining cost of technology.
"Cost of storage, computation, and microelectronics will continue to decline to make it more cost-effective for operators to scale up," Latham said. "They'll be able to manage, monitor and maintain very large networks of kiosks and devices and gain real-time insights to make more informed decisions about the business."
Declining costs is already supporting the expansion of kiosks that dispense RFID wrist bands used for tourist attractions to allow cashless payments, ticketless entry and ID-free admission, Miller said. The wristbands can also be reloaded with funds at kiosks.
"I think that the commonality and the affordability of RFID bracelets and the desire to go cashless when you're in those kinds of facilities is expanding," said Miller. "It's becoming more accessible. People are being able to do it without having to be Disney."
The application is new from the standpoint of how it's being applied, Miller said.
"They're finding different uses for it within the park," she said. "You can pay at different vendors for your food while you're within the park."
Telemedicine takes new forms
Telemedicine is an established form of video conferencing, but its use is expanding to more functions within the health care environment.
"What about being able to call a pharmacist from the pharmacy?" Miller asked. "Or call your doctor from the pharmacy? Being able to do those things and see a person (on the video screen) adds to the value of customer service."
Some experts, including Curt Thornton, CEO of Provision Interactive Technologies Inc., believe that telemedicine holographic kiosks will become commonplace.
"Consumers can interact with their doctor's holographically, as well as view aspects of the human body as a hologram," he said.
The health care sector is also an area where kiosks have taken a role in managing supplies. Kiosks that track and supply medication eliminate human error in the workplace.
"We also see this trend with kiosks that manage inventory like surgical scrubs and bed linens within hospitals," Latham said. "Bed management within the hospital's housekeeping department is essential for ensuring the optimization of patient flow. Knowing immediately where there are beds that are available with clean linens is critical. This real-time information from a kiosk can help hospitals meet regulatory requirements while also ensuring that beds are made available as efficiently as posssible."
Part 2 examine more emerging kiosk applications driven by changing technology.
/ Elliot Maras is the editor of KioskMarketplace.com and FoodTruckOperator.com.