Friday, May 7, 2021

Mad Systems: The future is now

Next gen AV systems using Facial Recognition controlled media delivery

InPark interviews Maris Ensing, Mad Systems

Just prior to the IAAPA Expo in Orlando, Mad Systems, an AV systems designer and integrator based in Southern California, unveiled QuickSilver™ and LookingGlass, described by Mad Systems founder Maris Ensing as “a complete AV system with high flexibility at a low price point.” According to Ensing, low infrastructure requirements produce significant savings. “Very few wired links are required, which in turn nearly eliminates the requirement for conduit and cable installation,” he says. “The client can put more of their budget toward other elements and experiences.”

InPark reported on the launch [See “Mad System’s Paradigm Shift,” InPark issue #75] and revisited with Ensing for the latest updates.

Remind us of the basics of QuickSilver™.

QuickSilver™ is a new way of designing and building audiovisual systems. QuickSilver™ currently comprises seven elements (although we are working on additional extensions):

• Micro-miniature WiFi controllable media server, hi-def or 4K capable, from an internal SD card with support for a numerous audio or subtitle-based languages. Plug it into a monitor or projector and it needs no further attention.

• Micro-miniature audio server with optional, builtin 30W stereo amplifier that performs all expected audio replay tasks, with the added capacity to generate realistic sounding, non-repeating, randomizing audioscapes (instead of monotonous, looping audio).

• Minuscule sensor/button/LED/input/output adapter that’s easy to conceal, and allows up to a dozen button or sensor inputs, can drive LEDs for feedback and receive other input signals without being wired back to the equipment it controls.

• PC-based show control system that ties the various elements together and is capable of controlling numerous other pieces of equipment such as lighting and mechanical elements.

• Media storage unit that allows the end user to simply update the master media files while letting the system handle the rest.

• Mesh-based, wireless power control network that allows the system to be turned on and off automatically.

• Solid, commercial quality WiFi backbone

All the media is kept local to the device, so WiFi is only used for control signals, and to update the media. We have updated our diagram (shown above) that shows how the QuickSilver™ system is fundamentally different from existing AV systems.

We continue to expand the system’s capabilities; QuickSilver™ was recently updated with another small unit (about 25x25cm) with four HDMI video outputs facilitating output of four independent media streams.

In terms of control, the client can handle individual components or groups of components using a tablet, smartphone, buttons, or just about any other standard method of control. For example, at a museum using QuickSilver™ a docent would have the ability to mute exhibits to isolate one for a group to focus on. The capabilities also allow the content in an exhibit to quickly switch to ‘kid-friendly’ mode, or even in a different language.

The real change starts when you look at some of the things this makes possible outside of the immediately obvious. For instance, the limitations of gobo projectors and framing projectors, and the unrealistic output from water and fire projectors; these limitations are some of my pet peeves, and QuickSilver™ can make them go away. To start at the beginning – we have a low cost medium res laser projector that’s good for 20-25,000 hours placed on a balljoint mount in our lab, with an added QuickSilver™ server. Now we can run a fixed gobo as we’ve all seen before, but we can also put moving video on there to make it a lot more interesting. Not only that, if we know we have a client renting the space tomorrow and another one the day after, we can pre-load their logos and just put them up on the day, providing a level of customization that a traditional gobo projector would make very hard and a costly exercise. Instead of a traditional framing projector, which limits us to four moveable blades and a focus setting, we can use that same video projector, and projection map any shape, or ‘fake’ roving searchlights, and limit those to the shape of the object we’re lighting up. For water and fire lights, we’ll again use the same low cost projector, but load a fire or water video so that it looks exactly like what we want it to look like, rather than living with the results of a bright light behind two rotating pieces of glass. This is what makes this unique and this is why its impact goes well beyond traditional AV.

What venues is this ideal for?

Really just about any venue that uses AV. Museums, visitor centers, family entertainment centers and theme parks are obvious candidates, but we think these costs and capabilities will also attract attention for retail, advertising, and business marketing forums such as trade shows where there is a need for constant customization. Since you only need power, QuickSilver™ saves time and labor on installation. In very simple situations, it’s even possible to pre-configure free-standing units which makes installation painless: you stick a video server into the HDMI input of a monitor or projector, Velcro an audio unit on the back of a speaker, and attach a button interface to the back of a motion sensor. This is a very different way of installing an AV system!

Another area where things become simpler and more versatile is projected graphics panels (instead of printed). The first benefit is the ability to deliver kid-friendly content to children, and adult-level information to adults. Projection gives you versatile tools for handling multiple languages and supporting ADA requirements as well. Projection is also in line with changing preferences – in the days of smartphones and tablets, we’re moving away from copious amounts of text. Flexible, dynamic graphics are the way forward. We are currently working on a new visitor center that has no printed graphics at all – one of the exhibits talks about ‘types of water,’ where in a traditional design we’d end up with a list of ‘drinking water’, ‘salt water’, and so on. In this case, we have a nice moving graphic that presents each type of water using moving imagery – an educational element with memorable, multi-sensory appeal as opposed to a list of items. This is also where QuickSilver™ provides for something that is truly unique: we have instances where we have two graphics panels adjacent to each other, and we will be using one single projector to project both, thanks to the capabilities of the QuickSilver™ server. The left graphic is run as one video instance (with the left audio channel) and the right graphic is run as the second instance (with the right audio channel).

How does QuickSilver™ work in regard to the Facial Recognition system?

Our patent pending Facial Recognition based media delivery system is really a separate layer; it can be used with a QuickSilver™ system or with another AV system or interactive exhibit that meets the technical requirements. Facial Recognition allows visitors to indicate their preferences without having to scan anything – all they need to bring is their face (or, oddly enough, an image of a face as we’ve allowed for that to trigger the system too).

QuickSilver™ was one of the triggers that made us, at Mad Systems, come up with the (patent pending) Facial Recognition overlay. The flexibility of QuickSilver™ had us try a number of different methods of activating all of its capabilities, and after we looked at previous generation options such as barcodes, RFID and IR based triggers, we realized that none of those were adequate for a next generation system like QuickSilver™. Once the system is in, it can be used for things other than media delivery: you could trigger different gaming options, use it for ticketing, VIP lines and even to measure parameters such as dwell time (some of which are delineated in our patent pending LookingGlass Concierge system).

As far as exploring all the possibilities, here’s how we’re testing Facial Recognition in our office. We recognize staff members, known clients and known delivery folks, and greet them. The Facial Recognition system kicks off a text-to-speech synthesizer driven by the show controller (the synthesizer is running on one of the standard QuickSilver™ media replay units) to welcome people by name. We are running demonstrations using either our own faces (live video) or celebrity pictures mounted on sticks to trigger events, so showing Neil Armstrong’s image shows a video clip of his famous “a small step for man” speech, etc. It’s a huge paradigm shift in the way that you do things, and the nice thing is that the Facial Recognition layer feels completely comfortable and natural to people – there are no buttons to press, nothing to scan, nothing to be confused about.

Just look at the exhibit, and things happen – and since we know who it is, we can tailor media content accordingly.

Tell us more about your new LookingGlass technology and how it fits with the others.

Think “customer service.” Mad Systems’ patent pending LookingGlass Concierge system is a layer on top of the Facial Recognition system. Once you can recognize people, it’s obvious that there are a variety of other things you can do to improve the visitor experience, and that is where the LookingGlass Concierge system comes in. Here is one example: A family with children enters a museum or theme park. If the parents attempt to leave the venue without the children, or the kids try to leave without the adults, an alarm is triggered. This function of LookingGlass provides a level of safety and security for the guests, and from an operator viewpoint, it prevents the venue from being used as a daycare center. My next example is in a venue where visitors are filmed or photographed as part of an experience. For example, pictures taken on rides, or videos being recorded in a kid’s TV studio in a children’s museum. LookingGlass keeps track of all of those videos and pictures wherever they are captured, so that when one of the family members walk into the gift store, it will display all of the family’s images and put them onto on memory stick (or a web server), providing a level of convenience for the guest. It’s all about improving customer service, even to the point where LookingGlass can improve your overall experience by having your favorite drink ready when you walk into the venue’s coffee shop, or use other information you have volunteered to really personalize your experience. There are a host of other things that LookingGlass does, detailed at madsystems.com.

You are already using the technology at your office. How are you implementing it?

We’re using these systems in a way that emulates how our client community would typically use them in their venues. So, we have over a dozen demo stations set up in our lab that show QuickSilver™ and Facial Recognition driven media delivery and a certain aspect of the system’s capabilities. We have a representative multi-camera Facial Recognition system running that is interfaced with one of our TeaParty show controllers. The show controller in turn communicates over a WiFi link to various QuickSilver™ components, and also ‘talks’ to a couple of interactive stations to show some additional capabilities. For example, we’re looking at automatically detecting the height of people standing in front of an interactive to determine if the buttons on a touchscreen should be lowered for easier visitor access, a feature that can be really beneficial for ADA needs. Another one of our stations is specifically set up to show how you can use QuickSilver™ to bring graphics and signage alive, for instance by combining a QuickSilver™ video server with a low cost ultra-short throw laser projector – enabling all the potential benefits of projected graphics (as mentioned above).

You rolled out the tech for the IAAPA Expo. What has the response been?

Remarkable actually, and all of it very positive. We had a number of designers, potential clients and others who looked at what we are doing and realized just what an incredible change this will make in our markets. Several professionals we spoke to were very clear that it pushes the bottom of the traditional marketing triangle down by providing more AV for less, thus enabling smaller venues to consider AV as part of their repertory, and that it pushes the top end up by thinking about full Facial Recognition capabilities combined with LookingGlass. They were very clear that rather than just ‘yet another AV system,’ this new technology combo makes for a fundamental change to the way we do things.

IAAPA was a lot of fun for us. We had a chance to be able to introduce something drastically new and different – something we feel is a breakthrough – and have it very well-received. Obvious questions were related to privacy and the ‘Big Brother’ concept, but an explanation of how the system actually works and its safeguards alleviates those types of concerns.

How do you see this suite of technologies evolving in the near future?

Since this is developed in-house, we’re seeing four primary paths that are driving further development. The first one is that we’re working on our basic wish list, both in terms of additional features and capabilities, as well as a roadmap of additional components.

The second one is that we’re learning as we’re using these devices. For example, we have a project that has us build an audio replay unit into an antique wind-up horn type gramophone player. We decided to add a capability to allow it to control some outputs so that we start the record platter motor that we retrofitted to the unit just before the audio starts, and we stop the motor when the audio finishes. These are minor changes, but it’s nice to be able
to just do things like that to make our projects even better. Needless to say, our client loves it.

The third one is feedback from clients and potential clients. We’re finding that people ask us questions along the line of ‘could we do this’ which make us re-look at the system to see if it makes sense to add some of these things as ‘standard’ capabilities.

Number four is probably one of the most obvious: new technology is coming out all the time that keeps us on our toes, but at the same time allows us to enhance the product – for instance, increases in the amount of processing power that is available. It is clear that any limitations of today will most likely evaporate tomorrow, and expand the capabilities we can offer our clients.

How can people experience QuickSilver™ Facial Recognition based Media Delivery and the LookingGlass Concierge system for themselves?

Give us a call, and make an appointment. Our lab at Mad Systems is ready for demonstrations. In addition, the first installations will deploy during the first quarter of 2019, and we will announce their locations as they come online. Stay tuned! • • •

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