Category Archives: Ubiquitous Computing

Project on Ubiquitous Computing in e-Commerce and Retail. Discussions on silent ubiquitous technologies for merging the e-commerce and retail environment shopping

SWOT Analysis and Timelines for EERE

Assignment 5

SWOT Analysis:

Strengths:
  • Innovative Idea – Integrates the very best of retail and ecommerce experience in one environment.
  • Technologies already exist – No new technology is needed for EERE. All the technologies needed already exist.
  • Support – Tallinn University’s library and interaction design lab’s resources can be used for research, planning and laboratory.
Weaknesses
  • Lack of skilled human resource – We need system engineers, developers, designers, usability testers, project managers and marketers to make this idea successful. Finding the right talent for this job could be very challenging.
  • Expensive – Needs extensive funding. To build the first prototype we need investors to back this idea as it could turn out to be very expensive.
  • Time Bound – The idea needs to roll out within the next 2 years to have a competitive advantage over new retail technologies.
Opportunities:
  • New technologies – Newer forms of slimmer and bendable 3D displays, power wireless networks, traction gained among the open source community of developers will make this concept even more effective.
  • Affordability  – As per technology trends over the past few years price of processors, LCDs, RFIDs etc have all fallen. As time passes, the technology needed will become more affordable.
  • First mover’s advantage – Since no has ever tried this something like this before there will be a first mover’s advantage for the makers of EERE
  • Long term cost advantage – Once the prototype is developed, it will be easy to rapidly create more stores with EERE and for diverse purposes.
Threats:
  • People’s resistance to technology – There is a general resistance towards trying out new technology even if it is for the good. This could be a threat towards the success of EERE
  • Security – The heart of EERE lies in the cloud. Server attacks could malfunction the entire system and create chaos in the store.
  • Dependent on Power – All the technologies required for EERE requires electricity. Shortage in supply or power cuts means shopping will not be possible. There needs to be alternative (greener) form of energy that could run an EERE shop
  • Unions and Strikes – Like most technologies of modern (e.g. vending machines), EERE too, displaces jobs. Adoption of this technology will be difficult in environments with strong workers’ unions.

Timeline:

Click here to view the timelines for EERE

Identifying Design Issues with EERE

Assignment 4

With EERE, I am trying to change the way people buy and sell products. This technology will be easily adopted by the sellers. It reduces costs, improves analytics, speeds up logistics etc. However, if not designed with caution and future thinking, it will be challenging to make sure that buyers easily accept and adopt the usage of such technology. Sure it makes things faster for buyers, gives them powerful information to make smarter buying decisions, eliminates frustrating navigation to find products and so on – but  if the design isn’t simple enough and free of errors or bugs, users get frustrated easily!

There are four reactions to frustration: 1) an emotional response of anger and increased physiological arousal, 2) trying alternative courses of action, 3) aggression, and 4) withdrawal.

Spector (1978)

This can cause an adverse perception of this technology and completely murder the commercial viability of EERE. Even if a few features won’t work as expected, users will tend to completely quit shopping within this environment and look for alternative (existing) means to complete the same tasks.

It’s very crucial for all the designers of EERE to make sure the experience is very closely related (if not the same) to the real life experience of shopping.  Design is a process. A process of continued improvement. It’s not just about producing an end result – it’s about achieving a goal. The goal here is to create a seamless shopping experience.  Before EERE goes live, it’s important for me to spot the potential (and inherent) issues with the design. Here are some of the problems and their proposed logical solutions.

 Designing for Existing Practices – One Display & Many Users, Space Issues, Alternate Displays:

In the real life shopping environment, it is easy for the pick up the goods from the display rack – no matter the number of users. One shelf could have 10 different people picking up items and adding to their cart.

Small Shop

Even with small local shops, when there are many buyers and only one seller, the seller politely asks the others to wait till he/she has done addressing the query of the first (potential) buyer.
Once the query is addressed the next (potential) buyer gets a chance to view / buy the product. This is simple, understandable and functional.

As mentioned in my earlier posts, EERE has a concept of dynamic display. This means that when the RFID would be read by the processor, the display would change highlighting only those items that are of users preference. But what happens when someone is trying to buy something from the milk section and another buyers walks in within the periphery of the reader? The solution of this problem needs to be taken from the real world scenario. EERE will give priority display to the user who walks in first and browses the products. Consecutive users can come in and add products to their cart but the “highlight” feature stays for the user who walked in first.

So what happens when someone is just navigating around the display and is within the periphery of the RFID but not even looking at the display and another buyer walks in? Well, for this, we must also include Eye Tracking devices to see if the user is actually looking at the display or just standing around it. This was not considered in my earlier post on Enabling Technologies for EERE.

Many small and large shops, specially within the city have space crunches. The shop owner has to be very tactful as to how products are displayed. Every small spot needs to be utilized carefully. In my previous post on Enabling Technologies for EERE I provided an image on the display panel would look. This is quite big and bulky. It requires minimum of 1 meter (length) of space. The designers of this project need to work on alternate displays that solve this problem.

E.g. 1:

Traditional Display
An example of the traditional rotating display

 

An example of alternative display method for EERE
An example of alternative display method for EERE

With the image above we realise that many alternative display tactics are used by shop owners to improve product browsing and save space. With the design of EERE we need to make alternative displays that mimic this concept.

Designing For Smartness – Feedback and Indicators:

The goods need time to arrive from the stock room to the final pick up point through the conveyor belt. After the user has browsed through the products and added it to the cart, how does he/she know that the goods are on the conveyor belt? As Don Norman points out in his book The Design of Everyday Things – lack of feedback confuses people – we must account for this at every stage of the checkout process.

After the payment has been cleared, and while the customer is waiting for his/her products to arrive from the conveyor belt, there should be special LCD displays that show the estimated time of arrival for the products for a particular customer.

Designing for All – Visually Impaired:

The WHO website factsheet states that there are 286 million people in the world with visual impairment. The EERE needs to be a universal design. To overcome this problem, I propose the following solution:

  • Special units can be put up with voice recognition softwares to enable people with such disabilities to buy their products.
  • Road Mapping for them to find collect their goods. Explained through example in the image below:

    Tracks that enable visually impaired to navigate
    Tracks that enable visually impaired to navigate
Designing for multiple interfaces, Ubiquitous Access, Seamless Interaction – Not leaving out existing online buyers:

Buying goods online is simply fantastic in terms of time saving. It can be done from anywhere. With EERE, I do not want to kill the actual e-commerce experience. With every EERE enabled shop, there will be mobile apps and responsive websites that allow the user to select and add products to the cart even before they reach the shop. This is a completely optional feature but it will make things very convenient for existing online buyers. Imagine the following scenario:

You finish work and you are on your way to the the supermarket in the bus. On your tablet/mobile device you select the products you want and add them to your cart. You complete the online checkout process. After this, when you enter the shop, the RFID reader understands that you have entered the shop. An LCD display tells on which conveyor belt you can expect the delivery of the products.

Mobile-Commerce-Grocery-Shopping-App

Conclusion:

The above mentioned points are just a few issues of Ubiquitous Computing that I have considered. With real life usage and data about what issues buyers are facing, it will be easy to spot the problems and implement changes accordingly. As Don Norman says:

To me, error analysis is the sweet spot for improvement.

Enabling Technologies

Assignment 3

E-Commerce Experience within Retail Environments (EERE) uses a combination of new age technologies. One of the core ideas is to use state of the art technology at a low cost. Keeping the costs low will enable many SMBs to take advantage of EERE. These technologies are currently available in the market, most of them as local commodities, and will be cheaper as time passes.

Every product display unit/section consists of the following:

IMAGE 3.1: Usage of Technolgy
IMAGE 3.1: Usage of Technology

Visible to users:

  • LCD Information Panel – The screen will showcase information about the product such as price and attributes (carbon credits, country of origin, notional value etc). When you move closer towards the display, the RFID reader senses your presence when you are about 80cms from the display. The microprocessor, embedded in the unit, changes the information panel display accordingly.
  • Touchscreen LCD Display Panel – The screen will used to display product images. By tapping on the product, it can automatically added to the trial room or the virtual cart. This screen will highlight and dim out products as per your preferences and your proximity to the screen.
  • Touchscreen Side Panel – The side panel will be used to modify cart (add/remove product, change product quantities) and perform smart search activities.
  • Payment Collection System / Self Checkout – At the time of checkout, before the products can be picked up from the conveyor belt, this system enables collection of payments via cash, card or store credits. The video embedded below explains how this mechanism works. Of course, the products do not need to be added manually. They will be directly added through the conveyor belts.
  • Temporary Cards (RFID) Issuing Machine – The system needs to also account for non – registered users i.e. users that do not possess a loyalty card. When a non – registered user walks into the shop, he will be given a temporary card with this machine. This will be a single push button ticket system (see image below). Entry to the store will not be possible, i.e. the doors will not open, if the user does not have this temporary RFID card with him. After the entire shopping process is complete, the user will then have to deposit the card to exit the shop.

    Push Button Queue Management System
    Push Button Queue Management System

Not visible to users:

  • A micro-processor with RFID Reader – The micro-processor will be physically connected to the display panels and connected with the main server through internet.
  • Airport Baggage Handling System – A series of conveyor belts and processors that enable movement of products from storage facility to trial room or checkout stand. The products that were added to try, can be picked up directly from the trial room. Once the product has been tried out, it can be deposited back onto the conveyor belt which brings it back to the storage facility.

This is just a brief overview of the kind of physical technologies that will be used. Once the project is scoped out in more detail, this list will be more conclusive. As mentioned before, all of the above mentioned technologies are already present and are in commercial use as of today. The true heart of EERE will be governed not by the physical technologies that but by the application system (through extensive cloud computing) that needs to be developed to enhance the buying (and selling) experience through intelligent management for sellers and relevant information dissemination for buyers.

Cloud Computing:

EERE will use an PHP based (MVC architecture)store management system with the following functionality:

  • Stock & Procurement Management – Inherent part of the system that enables stock management and procurement.
  • Product Management – Inherent part of the system that manages products and transfers via the conveyor belt to trail room and checkout.
  • Order and Cart Management – Inherent part of the system  that automates checkouts and processes orders. Includes Invoice Management in order to automate invoices and payment collections.
  • Report Management – Inherent part of the system  that manages data visually, provides powerful reports and statistics to enable the administrators to make better decisions.
  • User roles Management – Inherent part of the system that creates and manages different users role. E.g. Super Administrator, Store Administrator, Department Administrator, Suppliers, Registered Customer, Temporary Card / Unregistered Customer etc. Different set of permissions will be allotted to different users. The system can account more type of users depending on the needs of the store. E.g. An extra user role can be created for the stock manager.
  • Plugins/Apps/Extensions – External plugins will be created to enhance functionality of the main system. A simplified API for 3rd party developers to create apps. E.g. 1: A local taxes plugin could be created for a particular country so that the invoices account for extra VAT. E.g. 2: A ‘Eat Healthy’ plugin could be developed that allows registered customers to only view healthy food items as per their preferences. E.g. 3: A Social Integration plugin can be created for registered customers that prefer to have social recommendations and reviews of products displayed on the Information Panel

At the moment, there are many available systems that are being used to manage shops. The problem is that there is a separate system for store management, supply management, inventory / warehouse management, order management, employee management etc. In my study, while researching various open source and paid systems that help store owners to automate processes, I have discovered that there is a need to integrate all the features (offered by several different applications) into one powerful and robust system for EERE. From a technological point of view, this will be a huge challenge for the developers.

Study References:

Identifying the Characteristics of Ubiquitous Computing for EERE

Assignment 2

01. Introduction
The idea behind E-Commerce Experience within Retail Environments (EERE) is not to kill the existing retail experience or make things complicated with technology. In fact, the core objective of the EERE is to enhance the shopping experience. Make it smarter, better, easier and faster – not just for buyers but for sellers too. The idea is to use calm technology that integrates within the natural process of buying. Information will be disseminated to the users using computing environments that silently merge in the real world B2C environment (shops, supermarkets, stores etc.).

02. Calm Computing and Social Invisibility
Across different cultures, boundaries and ages the process of retail buying is pretty much the same.

Ubiquitous Computing for ecommerce
IMAGE 1: A simplified flowchart of the buying process within the Retail Environment

During the development of EERE I want to make sure that this process remains unaltered (as seen in IMAGE 1). The simplicity of this process is unmatched in comparison to buying goods online on a website/app using a computer device. No buttons, no payment gateway issues, no site navigation problems, no browser compatibility issues etc.

YOU WALK IN > NAVIGATE TO YOUR SECTION > TAP ON THE GOODS THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO ADD YOUR CART OR TRIAL ROOM> MAKE PAYMENT AT THE CHECKOUT COUNTER > PICK UP YOUR PRODUCTS FROM THE CONVEYOR BELT

03. Tool of Transparency
The idea is to keep EERE as intuitive as real life physical shopping through intelligent use of technology. The only difference is that, with EERE, every step will be much faster and will eliminate the concept of long super market lines, stocking products, difficult navigation, stressful product comparison/filtering etc. One of the intentions of EERE provide a lot of relevant information to the shopper in a calm and subtle manner. Tons of potentially relevant information can be displayed through these display panels but the shopper does not need to feel repulsed with information overload. To achieve a similar flow of buying a combination of ubiquitous technologies will used for EERE.

Traditionally, when you enter a supermarket and find your section, this is how you consume information:

  • You see the shelf on which the product is placed.
  • You see the product.
  • You see a panel right below the shelf that has a sticker with the price (and some other information related to the product).

The shelf is used to showcase the product and the panel is used panel to display the price (and other relevant data).

Ubiquitous Computing ecommerce
IMAGE 2: Traditional Display Units – Product Shelves and Price Panels

With EERE, important/extra information will be available on the Dynamic Information/Price Panels (see image below) only if the user has asked for it. The RFID sensors senses the chip (embedded into loyalty/discount cards) on the buyer and shows relevant and contextual information during purchase like price, facts and values, social recommendations, reviews, similar products, country of origin, carbon credits etc. If the user is not registered (and has no preferences in display) the Smart Panel simply show the price.

Ubiquitous Computing ecommerce
IMAGE 3: EERE – Dynamic Shelves and Information-Price Panels

04. Technology of Context and Contextual Computing
There are many kinds of buyers and each of them possess a different need. Weight watchers prefer buying foods with less fats and more proteins. Socially active and environment friendly buyers prefer buying foods that grow locally and from companies that promote fair trade.  People on a tight budget use price of a product as their key decision maker at the time of purchase. Whatever kind of buyer you may be, it has always been hard to find the right product suiting your needs quickly. Often, marketers know this fact and take advantage of this. Most of us have felt cheated through visual deception.

For example:
You are in a hurry and you need to buy apple juice. There are at least 20 different flavors of juices from at least 6 different companies. Each one of them have a different packaging (with different colors and fonts). It is almost impossible to read all the contents of this. You prefer juice that has no additives. You finally find a packet with a huge sticker on the juice box that says “100% Natural Juice – no preservatives added”.

You reach home, pour yourself some juice and read what’s written on the back of this juice box. In small text you would find the following

“*contains 10% juice. contains sugar and water”

The information was always there but you do feel cheated! Marketers understand the human psychology of buying and use gimmicks like these to increase sales of particular product. What if you would have a display panel within the juice section that showcases only those juices that suit your preferences with nutritional facts show cased in the same font in systematic tabular format.

From a technological point of view – there are two kinds of buyers. Registered buyers and unregistered buyers.
Buyers who wish to register themselves can input their buying preferences into the system and add plugins that help them buy better.
Registered buyers contain a card with an RFID chip embedded into it. This chip is sensed by the panel and product displays are modified accordingly – showcasing (and highlighting) relevant products as per the registered buyer’s choices. The remaining products merge into the background as they appear in gray scale and not in full color.

For example:

  • Registered diabetic buyers will see only healthy foods displayed in full color. Unhealthy items will appear in gray scale.
  • Registered children under 18 will not see alcohol or cigarette products in full color. They only see relevant items in full color.
  • Registered users who are health conscious will see the exact nutritional break down among various products in a systematic tabular form using the same fonts/colors without even having to pick up the product!

 


By merging irrelevant information into the back, the process of choosing before buying can be made much more intelligent thereby empowering the people.  The ultimate choice lies with the consumer and they may decide to buy whatever they please.

05. Conclusion
Ubiquitous Computing, and any technology as a matter of fact, needs to be used to address and solve existing problems of the world. One of the biggest problems of our times and its culture is the way be consume. With EERE, it is my aim to create intuitive technology results in more conscious consumers.

VRC_Tunnel_Takeover_1

Integrating the E-Commerce Experience within Retail Environments (EERE)

Assignment 1

A] Introduction: The Problem

Billions of dollars have been invested into e-Commerce technologies. It’s easy, functional, cost-effective, convenient and smart. With the invention of e-Commerce websites and apps – people have been thinking of this to be the future of B2C. There has been a sharp rise in e-Commerce B2C spending over the past few years. Investors are bullish about this new medium of buying goods and services online. However, it is obvious that this growth is about to come to a standstill in a few years to come. Most e-Commerce enthusiasts fail to realize that 64% of the global population is yet not online!(1)
It will be a long time before an actual shift can be made in shopping culture – from buying goods in physical shops/markets to buying goods online using an app/website. Perhaps, this will never be achieved and both mediums with run parallel to each other.

Even among internet users, there is a small fraction of users that actually prefer to buy goods/services online rather than going to a shop. So, why is that majority of the people (internet users) still prefer to go a to shop and buy their products rather than buying it online? The Retail Experience. This brings us to the next question: Why are increasing number of people using e-Commerce sites/apps to buy their goods and services? The E-Commerce Experience.

1. Problems with the e-Commerce experience:
Keeping the obvious problems like bad site/application design or functionality, payment gateway provider issues or limitations of delivery/logistics of goods within same day aside – I will focus on the issue with respect to the subject matter studied in the foundations of Ubiquitous Computing.

For hundreds of years human beings have been buying their goods/services by going to a shop/market – not on a device. After a long work day and on my way home when I want to buy milk I think of a super market – not a website. It’s just natural. The idea of being able to compare goods and find several options in a shop/market with different ‘sections’ for products in a real world 3 dimensional environment of a physical shop is far superior than viewing ‘categories’ and clicking it on a website or an app. Having to sit in front of plastic and metal device and buy goods will never give the end user the same experience that an actual shop could. This is something about the buying experience at a real physical shop that a 5inch, 7inch or even a 22inch computing device like a mobile, tablet or PC cannot provide!

For a moment, think about how you interact with a Desktop, Tablet or Mobile while buying a product. It is so external, impersonal and unnatural. You sit in front a device (laptop, desktop, mobile, tablet etc), load a website or an app, browse from a variety of products available on a site/app, compare products, read reviews and make the payment. A few days later the product is delivered at home. But when you think about it, all of it was done on a plastic and metal device – it’s unnatural and inhuman. We are interacting with a device and not an environment. As human beings, since we were born, we have been used to interacting with the environment and elements within that environment. We are not used to interacting with an element and an environment within that element. Computing by itself, should not be done by personal computers, tablets, mobile etc. In fact, it should be done by the environment. Humans are better tuned to interact with environments and not devices with an environment within.

2. Problems with the Retail Experience:
Even with the unmatched experience of retail shopping, online retail has been growing every year. Why does that happen?

Shopping in a large physical shops can be a very stressful and frustrating experience – all the colours, choices, comparisons of price and features, different fonts and packaging, navigating through thousands of products before finding the right product, standing in long lines during checkout and so on. This can be frustrating for many people forcing them to buy their products online.

It’s clear that most people prefer shopping online because there is a huge variety of options to choose from. The biggest problems with local shops is ‘stocking’. Warehousing and stocking of inventory shoots up the cost shops thereby forcing them to keep limited products.

Online e-Commerce companies (example: existing websites like e-Commerce websites like Amazon and eBay) understand these problems and have invested heavily into developing cutting edge cutting edge e-Commerce applications/tools like 'product comparison', 'social recommendations',  'filters for quick navigation and selection' and 'reviews' that enhance and improve the user experience. Modern day e-Commerce technology makes the buying experience much smarter and friction-less.

So, the question that I ask is:  
Can we make the shopping experience smoother, smarter and better with intelligent use of e-Commerce technologies in Retail Environments?

B] The Solution: E-Commerce Experience with Retail Environments (REEE)

The ideas I am about to discuss could be revolutionary for Retailers and B2C. This project is possible through a culmination of technologies available as of today:
1. Internet/Cloud e-Commerce Based Applications
2. LED/LCD Display Panels
3. (Airport) Baggage Handling Systems

What is EERE?
EERE is a conceptual model of integrating the powerful computing of modern day e-Commerce (tools and applications) to enhance the shopping experience in Retail Environments.

The idea is simple by logic as will be explained in the following 2 simple steps:

1. The buying & choosing process:
Imagine a shop with no shelves and no products. Just walls. Different sections (for example Fashion, Health, Wellness, Kitchen etc) with wall-mounted LED display panels with a list of different products. The panels have all the products displayed on them just like an e-Commerce website. People can swipe and select products. Advanced search techniques to find the right products and add them to your checkout cart. Instead of physically picking up your products and dumping them to your shopping basket, users just swipe through the products on the large display panels and add them to an electronic cart.

Intelligent search and knowledge systems that allow you to find the right product using advanced filtering and selecting methods:

Example 1: “I need cheese with less than 12% fat” The panel displays all the available cheeses with less than 12% fat.

Example 2: “I need juice with zero preservatives” The panels displays all the available juices with no added preservatives.

Example 3: “I need blue bed sheets within $30 to $50.” Nested logic is applied here and the panel will display all available blue bed sheets within the specified price range”

Example 4: “Breakfast items for a diabetic.” The panel will show all the available breakfast items with no or low sugar.

Social recommendations tools allow users to see what their friends have been buying and read their (or general user) reviews before making the purchase. This makes the buying and choosing process much faster, better and smarter.

The checkout and delivery process:

One thing about the physical shopping experience that no e-commerce website, no matter how large, cannot match is timely delivery. The idea of paying and getting your goods instantly the moment you want them is only possible through physical buying and not online buying.

In 2012 the Heathrow recorded 69.98 million passengers (2). Ever wondered how
almost all the passengers got their bags through designated conveyor belts on time? Airports use advanced baggage management systems with conveyor belts and displays that tell you when and where you can collect your baggage from.

Once the products have been been selected and paid for by automatic cash/card acceptance machines, you wait at the belt assigned to you. Goods are automatically transported from the warehouse / stock storage place via these conveyor belts and can be picked up by the end user.

Conclusion: Many organizations are trying various concepts like billboard & QR code shopping whereby product images and prices are listed on the walls of public areas and can be added to cart by simple using a smart phone and QR code app. This still defeats the idea of making the Retail Environment smarter. With EERE, the retailers will be able to provide an an unmatched buying experience using the best of the two mediums – the retail experience and the eCommerce experience.
Although the idea is in it’s nascent stage, I spot huge potential for EERE. 

 

 Sources: 
1. World Bank - http://data.worldbank.org/
2. http://www.heathrowairport.com/about-us/company-news-and-information/company-information/facts-and-figures
Image Source:
1. Forbes.com