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Canadian Startup Offers Interactive Digital Signage System

The Linkett NFC RFID reader, mounted on a video monitor, shares coupons, applications and other promotional information with consumers' NFC-enabled mobile phones and tablets.
By Claire Swedberg
Sep 09, 2013

A startup advertising technology firm founded by a University of Waterloo undergraduate is currently taking orders for a new product intended to make digital signage and television interactive via the use of Near Field Communication (NFC) technology. The Ontario-based company, known as WestonExpressions, is led by 20-year-old CEO and cofounder Douglas Lusted—who, along with two other cofounders, launched the solution as part of a cooperative project for the school. The company's Linkett product includes a device with a built-in NFC reader that can be connected to a digital media player that, in turn, can be plugged into a television or other digital display screen via a high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI) connection. The Linkett system provides software on its cloud-based server to manage the text, graphics and video displayed to each consumer on the digital monitor, as well as what is then provided to that user based on an NFC read. In addition, the solution includes analytics enabling companies to track how often data is accessed, and to direct specific media to a consumer's phone or tablet, based on that person's previous tapping habits on Linkett-based displays.

The Linkett reader
Last year, while working to complete the first year of his Bachelor of Arts degree in environmental business, Lusted decided to develop a business initiative initially consisting of signage that could be posted at escalators in order to capture the attention of consumers as they rode from one floor to another. However, he then modified that original version for existing displays used at businesses and other public locations where information is presented via images and videos. WestonExpressions' second cofounder and COO, Ashok Patel—a computer scientist previously employed at BlackBerry—suggested incorporating NFC technology to enable viewers to receive data on their mobile phones.

Lusted, Patel and Vlad Pisanov, WestonExpressions' third cofounder and CTO, obtained funding through the Creative Destruction Lab, an incubator program carried out at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management. The team then developed and tested the Linkett device at the University of Waterloo. In July 2013, the company began accepting pre-orders for the technology (to be shipped later this fall), and began conducting pilots at area businesses, with a total of 15 pilots slated to take place by next month.

WestonExpressions' Douglas Lusted
The Linkett device has an NFC reader built into it that can send and receive data via a 13.56 MHz transmission compliant with the ISO 14443 standard. Lusted declines to identify the RFID hardware vendor with which his company has been working. The system also comes with cellular and Wi-Fi or Ethernet connections, as well as a motion sensor. The NFC reader, when plugged into the digital media player, is mounted to the front of a video screen. When a person comes within close range of the display, the Linkett reader detects that action and can then dictate what text and videos to display on the screen. If a consumer sees something of interest, he or she can tap an NFC-enabled Android phone or tablet (no app is required) against the Linkett reader, which is about the size of five stacked credit cards.

The Linkett device responds by transmitting data that directs the phone to visit a specific Internet location, or to perform some other action. There are a variety of ways in which this service can be used, Lusted explains. In one case, a user's phone can be redirected to a Web site, such as that of a company displaying advertising on the video screen. In another scenario, the phone can be instructed to send a text message. For example, in the case of a requested donation to a charitable foundation, the phone would transmit a text message indicating that the consumer would like to make a donation. In other situations, the phone would be directed to begin downloading content, such as pictures (with coupons, for example) or apps from the Linkett server.

To promote the launch, WestonExpressions is selling a bundled offering consisting of three Linkett devices for $99, including two months of service. Once those two months have expired, the fee for using the cloud-based software is $99 per month. To initiate the service, a WestonExpressions client provides media content to the Linkett server, and can set a schedule for changes to that content, which would then be forwarded to the Linkett device at the appointed times. The Linkett server software can also provide the client with business analytics, such as how often the device was tapped, what content was on display at that time, and when those taps occurred.

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