Thursday, August 30, 2007

Are you ready for the self-service restaurant?

RetailWire has a neat article (free registration required) on a concept restaurant that recently opened in Germany. Called Baggers, the shop positions itself as the restaurant of the retro-future, and has customers place orders via touchscreen, with a complex system of rails and trolleys used to deliver food right to the table.

Never mind that the interior of the place looks like Rube Goldberg tried to redesign Chutes and Ladders, my question is whether people are ready for a do-it-yourself restaurant experience outside of a QSR or fast-casual environment?

I have to admit that I'm a sucker for gimmicks, so I'd probably give the restaurant a shot just so I could see my order whizzing across the restaurant and down to my place setting, but after that, I'm not so sure. What happens if I drop a fork and need a new one? Is there an easy way to order a drink refill? What if I spill something?

One of the nice things about going to a sit-down dining establishment is that you know that there's a small army of people waiting on you -- literally. That's why we (or I, at least) get upset when service is lousy -- it's like we've been betrayed. So while the Baggers concept certainly looks cool, I have a lot of questions that I'd want answered before settling on whether it's a good idea or not.

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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Marc Ecko's digital grafitti inspires interaction

Maybe it's a kiosk, or maybe it's an interactive digital sign, but whatever you call it, it's pretty slick.

According to Ads of the World, "Marc Ecko wants to promote his roots and love for graffiti. Digital citylights are created that consists of an LCD and a bluetooth interface. People will get the possibility to access the citylight via bluetooth with their cell phones and spray their own graffiti with the cursor of their phone."

While the electronic poster doesn't really provide any kind of self-service function, the ability to engage passers by and engage users with a unique interactive experience puts this thing -- whatever it actually is -- firmly in the "kiosk" camp for me.

There's no word on whether this is a one-off project or part of a larger deployment, but JC Decaux has experimented with similar interactive advertising devices in the past, and in fact this could be the same exact hardware used for some of those past campaigns.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Sony bets the bank on PS3 kiosks

Ok, that's not completely accurate. More like, "Sony bets PS3 kiosk might work inside a bank," at least according to this little blurb from GamerNode. All joking about needing to take out a second mortgage to afford the PS3 aside, apparently the firm believes that by offering some entertainment for bank patrons and/or their children through a lush in-bank environment dubbed "THE BANK ZONE," they'll build some positive brand image (and of course the bank hopes that the additional level of service will help separate them from their competition).

No word on how many BANK ZONE environments are set to be deployed (the current ones are designed and implemented by Sony Computer Entertainment Korea), but my guess is that they'll never see the light of day in the US. Still, seeing a PS3 demo loop of Metal Gear Solid 4 or Final Fantasy XIII might compel the average patron to withdraw a few hundred more... just in case.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Sequoia Media brings DIY movie making to Wal-Mart

While photo kiosks have become commonplace in big-box retailers like Wal-Mart, vendors have been looking for ways to provide more services through these devices in order to boost sales. I've seen kiosks that let you send finished photos away to be blown up into posters, and others that let you screen photos onto T-shirts and other soft goods, but this offering from Sequoia Media is the coolest extension of the photo kiosks that I've yet seen. From this MediaPost writeup:
The myMovieMaker service, available in Fujifilm photo kiosks at Wal-Mart stores, lets customers turn digital photos into personalized DVD movies for between $12.86 and $16.86. "We're targeting a market really underserved--the photo mom, the chief memory officer out at daily events," says Terry Dickson, Sequoia Media's vice president of marketing and business development. "They're busy. They can be at the
soccer game one day, the dance recital the next, taking photos with a phone or digital camera and then take the photos to your retail store or workstation at home and create a memory."
The company built buzz for the service by offering a free demo of the technology online, letting anybody build a short video by uploading photos into the system. While the web demo lets users email their short creations to friends and family, in order to create longer, more elaborate clips and save their work, they'll have to go to the in-store kiosks.

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Saturday, August 11, 2007

No firewall + windows registry entry = BAD!

I can't claim the title as my own, as I pilfered it from a colleague who forwarded me this story from Storefront Backtalk about the now-infamous hacker breakin at TJX that led to the theft of hundreds of thousands of credit card numbers and other personal information. While the company had attributed the theft to rogue hackers who had infiltrated the company's wifi network from a nearby parking lot, it now looks as like the attackers may have instead used an unprotected kiosk as the entry vector. The kiosk in question is normally used for taking employment applications (you've probably seen them at your local department store or supermarket). The current theory is that the attackers opened the back of the kiosk and attached a USB drive to the device that was then able to download software onto the kiosk's hard disk, and ultimately the corporate network (which it was connected to directly, sans firewall). Once inside the network, the attackers made quick work of any other security precautions, and went on to steal the data.

So let's do a quick review of what went wrong:

  1. Access to the employment kiosks' innards (e.g. computer hardware) was not restricted (why on earth weren't these locked?)
  2. The computers' USB ports were not disabled, even though they served no purpose on the kiosk.
  3. The kiosks were running an operating system that could somehow be fooled into loading arbitrary software from a USB key
  4. The kiosks were connected to the corporate network WITHOUT A FIREWALL
And of course that partial list leaves off other burning questions, like how store employees didn't notice somebody messing around with the kiosk's innards right inside the store?

Yet, as bad as each of these problems is, they were all avoidable.

For #1, a simple padlock (key or combination) would have done fine. Padlock holes are standard issue on lots of computer cases, and most kiosks come with locking doors.

As for #2, disabling unused USB ports can often be done from the BIOS (which itself can be password protected), but if that option isn't viable, a little crazy glue works wonders.

While I normally don't flog WireSpring's products in this blog, our FireCast kiosk operating system was designed with #3 in mind. We've gone through VISA's PCI compliance testing and PABP certification process, as should pretty much anybody working inside a retail environment these days.

As for #4... well... I'm just dumbfounded. How anybody can put a device on a network these days that ISN'T behind a firewall is just beyond me. I can only hope that TJX's lesson is being learned by others who will now go and re-examine their current customer-facing applications to make sure they're as locked-down and secure as possible.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Does self service = better service?

That's exactly the question that this article at the Washington Post considers. The first half considers the many things that self-service has going for it these days, including better technology, more user-friendly applications, and a shopper base that's already used to surfing the Internet (probably doing some pre-shopping research) and using ATMs. The second half takes a look at some shortcomings, though, including these tidbits:
[Many] retail outlets remain kiosk-free, with consumers preferring to try on clothes and ask sales associates for help. Fast-food executives say they're waiting for better, more flexible technology.

Gap Inc.'s use of consumer kiosks failed because shoppers were being left alone for too long and many preferred talking with sales people, said Praveen Kopalle, a professor in Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business.

"This technology is very useful when customers immediately see where the benefit is, where the convenience is and where it's more personalized," Kopalle said, citing simple tasks such as withdrawing cash or placing a fast-food order.

McDonald's, Burger King, Subway and others are testing kiosks and while technology providers predict widespread adoption by 2010, restaurant executives seem unconvinced.

I thought that last part was especially compelling, since we hear so much industry "analysis" pointing to massive upswings without any real social, technical or business resolution causing it. Going forward, I expect that the successful kiosk applications -- the ones that have really, really big adoption rates -- will be the ones that provide a significant benefit to both deployer and user. Just look at airport kiosks, as the Post article does. The airlines love them because they can complete a check-in transaction (by far the most common type of transaction handled at the airport) for as little as $0.14, whereas checking in with a rep behind the counter will cost the airline about $3. For the customer, the ability to bypass long lines and check in via a 30-second process on a kiosk means easier, less stressful travel. While these kinds of win-win situations are still the exception rather than the rule, there's no doubt that other self-service applications that fit this model will drive the next wave of kiosk adoption.

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Sunday, August 05, 2007

Diebold voting machines are vulnerable to virus attacks

Following up on last week's article about university researchers hacking lots of different kinds of voting kiosks comes this news from PC World. Apparently some voting kiosks made by Diebold, (who has already been in hot water for the security (or lack thereof) of their systems) are prone to remote exploits by certain kinds of computer virus. From the article:
Diebold Election Systems Inc. voting machines are not secure enough
to guarantee a trustworthy election, and an attacker with access to a
single machine could disrupt or change the outcome of an election using
viruses, according to a review of Diebold's source code."

The software contains serious design flaws that have led directly to
specific vulnerabilities that attackers could exploit to affect
election outcomes," read the University of California at Berkeley
report, commissioned by the California Secretary of State as part of a
two-month "top-to-bottom" review of electronic voting systems certified
for use in California. The assessment of Diebold's source code revealed an attacker needs only limited access to compromise an election.

"An attack could plausibly be accomplished by a single skilled individual
with temporary access to a single voting machine. The damage could be
extensive -- malicious code could spread to every voting machine in
polling places and to county election servers," it said.

The full report indicated four main problem areas for the software, including insufficient means for preventing hackers from installing malware on the machines, inability to guarantee the secrecy of ballots, no way to prevent election workers from tampering with the machines (and the ballots cast on them), and susceptibility to computer virii (which, let's be honest, is going to be a big problem as long as these devices continue to run on a regular MS Windows operating system).