Window Shopping: Browse, Buy From the Street With a Wave of the Hand, Smartphone

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Forget old-fashioned "window shopping," a new gesture-based tech lets you browse a store's inventory through the window, and could even let you pay for it by smartphones held to the glass. That's right, you may never need to go inside again. Welcome to the new tech "window emporium."

An innovation by the Fraunhofer institute in Germany (which is getting a public demo at the CeBIT show this week) could give shopping a complete make-over, and by "complete" we mean make-up, hair-style, botox, plastic surgery nip-tuck, and some deep bone-structure modifications. Essentially it'll turn a store's window promotion into a sophisticated digital display and gesture-sensing product catalog that could even sell you goods without ever needing you to step inside the store.

The Fraunhofer press release does an unusually good job of explaining the technology in a narrative: "Isn't the leather bag chic?..." The woman points to one of the bags and as if by magic the luxurious purse appears on a display behind the shop window. Then she points to a button and the designer object rotates on the screen. "So that’s what it looks like from the back." The woman passing by is impressed. She makes another gesture to zoom the bag toward her letting her to see every detail.

It all works out with a vaguely Microsoft Kinect-sounding system of multiple cameras. Four cams watch the space outside a store window, and enable sophisticated software to recognize a person standing in front of them, work out where their hands are and triangulate their hand movements before translating them into gesture controls. Two cameras look at a user's face, and two at their hands—though it doesn't store any data. By hooking a big LCD display up to the store's inventory, it's thus possible to let a consumer browse the stock, choosing color and looking at objects in an interactive three-dimensional way that they couldn't achieve with a mere static mannequin window display.

It's smart enough to work out if several people are watching the window, and can suggest—based on knowledge of the store inventory and shopping habits—what products these people may like. It can even display customized greetings to "guarantee a close bond to the consumer" (or, alternately, "scare the willies out of them for a couple of years until we're all used to this sort of system") assuming you're a previous customer who's consented to sharing your data. And though the system is customizable to the extreme, right down to the payments protocols, it's possible to hook up a payment system—possibly based on the hot NFC wireless protocol—so that if a passer-by is really interested in a product they can buy and pay for it right then (arranging for later pick-up or delivery) by holding their smartphone up to the store's window.

That all sounds blindingly obvious, doesn't it? A natural extension of existing cutting-edge tech? That's true—but just think about the implications. Stores could sell products even after they've "closed" for the day. Some stores could do away with portions of the expensive square-footage in retail space they rent, settling for more digital interactive displays instead. Digitally switched-on stores could adjust their stock holding and ordering based on the rich consumer-data they'd collect from such a digital system, even modifying the store's window display theme and color on the fly to match what consumers are currently looking to buy.

We knew shopping was about to change, thanks to the wave of NFC smartphones we're expecting to see over the coming years, but this technology may turbo-boost that change quite a bit.

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