The COVID-19 pandemic has produced a wave of new or re-marketed products intended to address one of the many new problems businesses face in re-opening and bring people through their doors each day.
My email inbox is filled each morning with pitches from Chinese manufacturers selling screens that also have sanitizer dispensers, and smartphone-sized gadgets, with cameras, that do quick body temperature scans that are intended to flag people who may be running fevers, and therefore may be carriers of the coronavirus.
A lot of these products look, and are, the same, and it would be impossible to keep up with all the options and sellers. But I was intrigued by a New Jersey AV tech company, Aurora Multimedia, that came out recently with a solution that seems a bit more substantial. It was designed from the start to integrate and work with other building systems, as well as offer alternative uses beyond this pandemic.
Aurora has versions of a temperature check screen that are as large as 21.5-inches, and they have the company’s versatile control system in behind it.
I spoke with Paul Harris, Aurora’s CEO, about the thinking behind the product, and how it is turning out to be something of a saviour for some AV reseller partners who were struggling to stay relevant with their pre-pandemic products and services.
So, Paul, I don’t think we’ve met. Can you give me a background on what Aurora Multimedia is all about?
Paul: Yeah. So Aurora Multimedia is an audio–visual manufacturer. We make AV over IP products, 1Gb &10Gb. We make HDBaseT. We make control animation products and now we’re onto thermal temperature tablets.
You guys are in New Jersey?
Paul: Yes, we are.
And at the core of your business would be, I guess, workplace and large facilities, that sort of thing?
Paul: We’re primarily catered to commercial digital signage. We also do medical, we do webinars. Mostly the professional spaces are what we do. We do some residential but very few. It’s mostly commercial.
Right. So, I was interested in chatting because, obviously with COVID-19 and everything that’s going on, my inbox every day gets carpet-bombed with all kinds of products for access control and thermal sensors, and you guys, two or three weeks ago in partnership with Diversified, came up with a product that looked quite a bit different from the the vast majority of what I see, sort of, pass by me. It looked a little more industrialized and ready for heavy use. So I’m curious about – I believe it’s called TAURI, what is it all about?
Paul: Yeah, so TAURI is one of those interesting things. It’s actually a partnership between Aurora & Glory Star.
Glory Star is a Chinese manufacturer?
Paul: Ah, yeah, they’re based out of Hong Kong. I’ve known them for a few years. And they presented this to us and so they came up with the idea of the temperature tablet that they were offering. And then we have an engine called ReAX, and then I saw that if we combine the two of them, it makes a very interesting integrative solution that gives it a whole another level of power.
So while there’s a lot of temperature sensing tablets that are “here and there” and other types of devices, none of them are really designed to integrate the way we’ve designed ours. So once you put the ReAX engine in there, that part is a 100% our build that goes into it. So it’s a different model, it’s a different firmware. It gives it a whole new level of capability, web surfing, streaming, communications, digital signage, automation. All the things a typical integrator likes to do when they hook into a system and want to share data between systems – snapshots, and so on. So it gives it an immense amount of capability.
And this would be distinct from these other ones that I’m seeing that are more just kind of things that do one thing?
Paul: Yeah, the majority of them out there that you’re seeing popping up here and there. And it’s actually funny because there are some things that I can’t stand with the industry. You get these overseas companies. In this case, it was a Chinese manufacturer who sold it to everybody and anybody. So now you get 20 manufacturers claiming that they are the manufacturer. If you go onto certain sites, you’ll see this about eight, as of a week ago, Chinese manufacturers claiming they’re the manufacturer. It really starts to cause chaos. And sometimes end users don’t appreciate when dealing with an actual manufacturer and the people who you definitely know have control of the product.
When you start dumping things like that out there. Yeah, you get into these price wars, you see people doing it, but at the end of the day, there’s really no support for it. You don’t know who’s controlling the firmware. You don’t know what’s going to happen in a year or two. When that company has slapped their name brand on it disappears because the surge was over. And where will that leave you? That’s quite the investment for taking a gamble to save a few dollars rather than to go through a proper pipeline and know who you’re actually dealing with. And that’s kind of one of the benefits here is, everybody knows exactly who the manufacturer is or who is involved in this. They know who’s writing the code for this. And they know that a USA company is in charge of this code, so they don’t have to worry about that aspect of it. They know it has a certain level of power and integration that’s going to allow them to put it into the systems. So this isn’t really about a chip out of the box thing.
This is actually about the integration of the facility, and having control over the experience that we’re providing. Because even when this COVID is over, now what? You have a temperature tablet that for the most part sits dormant, I do see value in it like during flu season, making it active again. So this way, anybody who has the flu, why not? They shouldn’t really be around other people, but there’s a chance now to increase the quality of life. So if you find out, you know, that you potentially have something wrong with you, is it really fair to the other people to end up with the flu? May not be as deadly but some cases can be. But from a quality of life, I can tell you right now, you know, near you, I’m sure you don’t want to get a flu, for example, and be sick for two weeks, feeling miserable, not having to work, using vacation time or whatever it is that the person has to use in order to get better. So, I think there’s going to be a better quality of life, just in general for people washing their hands more and just being more cautious of it.
But during the timeframe, while this is going on, I do believe that you’re gonna need to do something else with these panels. So you get these little seven or eight inch panels while they do serve a purpose. That’s about as far as it goes. At least with ours in all the different sizes, they become digital signage, they become instructional, they become more than just thermal. So you’re getting a better value for the long term out of the product than just doing the thermal sensing which some people think “Oh, I need this just for the COVID”.
No, you’re going to have it for much more than that.
Yeah, certainly the lifecycle of these kinds of products is, I don’t know, three-four–five years. In that time, even if we get to a vaccine and everything else, it’s not going to be an on/off switch, where all of a sudden people are no longer concerned about health safety and these things. This is gonna be what we think about for the next foreseeable future, for a generation probably.
Paul: Without a doubt. I mean, look at it this way. It’s been more than a decade since SARS and although with SARS we were fortunate, it came and went. It may not have been, you know, so it goes to show that we are a global economy. And it does not take much for something to get around very quickly and cause a lot of disruption with everybody’s lives. So, it’s important to quickly identify and limit the amount of exposure and going forward, these are some of the ways to do it. And we, in our company, have already taken some precautions, some even more extreme than some other companies. We actually went out and found UVC bulbs, so…
Can you describe how this TAURI system works? Like, obviously, we’re in an audio driven medium here, so can’t just show people but if this is installed in the entrance area, into a company, what’s installed, how does it work? Is it a one–to–one thing, or is it scanning multiple people, all that sort of stuff?
Paul: So the thing that I tell everybody is that you have to set expectations of what this is and use it in the appropriate manner. People like to assume this is the God’s gift of way of telling somebody temperature and the answer is: it’s not, it’s a screening device is all it is, it has a certain level of accuracy and then accuracy can vary slightly based on the conditions.
You do want it ideally indoors, because it is measuring surface temperature, no direct sunlight on it. Now when people come in, the point of it, more than anything is, the typical body temperature, it’s supposed to be 98.6. But the reality of it in the United States, it’s really about almost a degree less than that. It’s just the way that people, you know, what’s happened with people and less inflammation and other things from medications and lifestyles. So a lot of people don’t even realize that the new norm is actually below 98, not 98.6. So won’t be uncommon to see lower temperatures, since people are going to recognize this. So the premise is: you walk up to it, you try to get within, you know, one–feet (eight–inches) to approximately three–feet away from it. And then within a second, it can lock in and tell you what your temperature is within a point five degree Fahrenheit plus or minus accuracy.
So really, the way to look at it is if you get about 100 people, the probability of having somebody with a fever in the group, so the goal is: look, if most people don’t have a fever, they’re pretty much gonna keep flowing and flowing and flowing. If you come across somebody with a fever, they’re going to start reading up over 100 degrees and then you go to a secondary process, which, maybe it’s an oral thermometer, it’s based on the local laws and what they allow, maybe a secondary sensor, it’s got to be as accurate or more accurate, or it’s just gonna, you know, create additional issues. And then you just look at that individual. So it’s really more of a scanning device that just really helps isolate the few people that might actually show up with a fever. And it makes people feel more comfortable when they go in there, while it doesn’t guarantee that somebody cannot be sick or a carrier. It does at least eliminate the probability of the ones that definitively do have something going on, whether it’s the flu, COVID and infection, something’s not right, that’s creating an elevated temperature.
You also have to use it in the right environment. I know some people always ask, well, “what happens if I was just working out or I’m sweating?” Sometimes it can actually lower your temperature, not increase it. The sweat, the moisture, you know, acts as cooling for your body and it Is reading surface temperature, so it’s going to be surface temperature of the moisture. So you might actually have to pat down a little bit to get rid of the moisture to get a more accurate reading. Females, during their cycles (menstruation, menopause, ovulation), temperatures can vary .5 degrees, can get up in the 99s. It happens. So you got to take that into consideration.
So there’s also a certain social aspect of the way you handle these things with people because sometimes you gotta really understand the situation. It’s not as simple as just taking the temperature and seeing that somebody’s flagged. You really got to ask a few questions that are sensitive and properly handle the situation because no one wants to be told that they might be sick.
Right. It sounds very much like this is not an unattended application. You’re still going to need somebody there, with the device or in close proximity if a high temperature is flagged?
Paul: Well, yes, you definitely want somebody nearby to do the secondary process. Do they have to be there all the time? No. I mean, it depends on the environment and what it is. I mean, if it’s an arena, for example, there’s going to be people there by the metal detectors, you mount these detectors, you make it part of the process. And if they’re flagged. you just move them over somewhere else.
Because they’re data integrated. You were talking earlier about integration, is the possibility there too? If you have like a security desk or some sort of a reception area, somebody walks up to this, it reads them, can it auto send a notification that pops on a screen saying, “Hey, we’ve got a hot one!” so to speak?
Paul: Without a doubt. You totally can do that. So yes, it can do that. It can trigger relays. I mean, this product can turn off lighting projectors and it can do anything you want it to really. Think of it as a control system on steroids. I mean, it really can do pretty much anything you tell it to do. Soit’s all how the integrators sets it up. And you can even set up the experience of what messages show up on the screen saying, you don’t have to say “you failed!” and put a big red stamp on it.
Infected! Infected! [Laughter]
Paul: You can put something a little bit more discreet saying, “please go to your left, or to the office on the right”, you know what I mean? And they don’t have to know why they’re going there. But you just tell them to do that and then discreetly tell them. You could be doing people a favor. Look, do you wake up in the morning, checking your temperature every single day? No, no one does that. So a lot of times people have temperatures and they don’t even know that they have the temperature . So in some ways, you could be doing somebody a service by saying “hey, by the way, you got something going on there” and regardless of whatever it is. they might have an infection and not even know it. So in some ways, it could be like a preemptive any type of sickness that may have.
Right. In putting this together, with your business partners, did you guys have to get lawyers to make sure that you were using the right words and not over promising anything?
Paul: That was the first thing we did because everybody always likes to find some reason to blame somebody else rather than take responsibility.
We did the CYAs, as you call it. You know, simply put, we don’t collect data at all. We don’t want it, we don’t care about it. The unit, it’s a blank slate. It’s really up to the integrator and the end users to determine what their local laws are and what they do with that data. So from a HIPAA compliance, we say, I don’t want to know about it. Leave it to the local laws and their intent of the devices. So the device is very powerful, but as far as related to Glory Star or Aurora Multimedia, we do not collect any data whatsoever. I can definitely speak to myself, we do not collect any data. As far as data that is collected, that is the programmability once the integrator does something with it, and what happens to that data and how secure that data is, once again is up to the facility and who wrote the code specific to that tablet at that location. So, that’s where that comes into play. As far as a screening device, I see people go, “the magic COVID detector”. No, we don’t do that. We never did that. There is no such thing as the magic COVID detector by using some type of scan device that magically says you have COVID, that’s not what these devices do at all. Any interview I’ve done, I’ve been very adamant about saying exactly what I’m saying to you, which is it’s a nice extra piece of insurance. Everybody feels more comfortable. It doesn’t guarantee that you’re gonna not let somebody in with a sickness that’s going to potentially contaminate, that can still happen but it’s an odds game is what we’re playing, right?
If you have 1,000 people coming into your facility, and you can eliminate three people that, you know, have something going on. You don’t know what it is, but they have something and in this environment, that something has a higher probability of being one of these illnesses, then you’ve just done a service to everybody. And you’ve eliminated the odds of spreading contamination on the inside parts of that facility. So you know, and that’s what this is all about. It is an odds game to minimize it.
Look, at some point, we only end up getting this. But the point is, what they’re trying to really do out there, which sometimes they don’t even see the news giveing the right story. It’s really about buying time more than anything. And the more you want to buy time is to get everybody back to work. It’s not even it’s not really about a cure or vaccination. That would be fantastic. But it’s really more about making it less deadly. As you see, as time goes along, and that’s what we’re trying to do here, buy everybody time. You keep seeing new methods, like that one drug, Remdesivir. That drug, from what I understand, cuts the time down…
By three, four days.
Paul: They said a third. So two–thirds of the time that it used to be. So if it was normally going to take you three weeks to go through this, you’re now down to two weeks. So in that case, look at what happened. Took a few months to find that particular drug, but it’s showing promise, they’re now saying it looks highly probable, that is the impact it has. Now they’ll slowly keep getting more data on it. And if that does help, that may have reduced, let’s say the fatality rate, and I’m not saying this is an actual quote, I’m just giving an example. Let’s say right now the fatality rate is at 7%, who knows that might drop it down to 5% or 4%?
But when you get that fatality rate down to something that’s much more acceptable to the flu level or lower, I think people are going to feel more comfortable about going outside. “Okay, if I get it, it sucks, at least we got medication now that will get me through it.” And unless I’m around these certain types of conditions, that you really got to be guarded more from, which those people should be guarded from, then you know, then we’ll do it. So I think right now, it’s more about buying time for people to find something that will at least lower the fatality rate. And then if they do come out with a vaccine, then so be it and then that’s when that will really make people feel better. But even with the vaccine, you know, we’re rushing the vaccine. So, you know how that goes too? You never know when that’s going to go at some point, or if that’s going to cause side effects and what’s going to happen years down the road. So even rushing things sometimes has its own, you know, problematic things that come with it.
What sent you down this path? I’ve seen some digital signage solutions companies who have introduced, you know, like hybrid screens and sanitizers, dispensers, things like that. And it looks very much like a pivot and just the general business thought that we need to have something that we can sell right now, but it doesn’t really seem like that would be the case with the kind of products that you’d normally sell or this would be something that would show up and you would, you know, start delivering?
Paul: Yeah, you know, you gotta understand more about the philosophy of Aurora as a company. Aurora itself has always been from the start thinking outside the box. We do not like to do what other people do. So one of the problems, and if you’ve ever seen my rants, because I can go and go and go.
I’ve always been a proponent for the industry as far as I don’t like it when people have zero originality where they’ll take a reference design from a chip vendor. And they’ll just copy everything exactly as it is, slap their name on it, throw it online for as cheap as they can.
Yeah. “We’ve got one too!”
Paul: Yeah. So, it’s a common problem in this industry. And then you end up playing pricing wars. And, you know, look, integrators are working twice as hard, if not more, to make the same money as they made years ago because of the internet and people throwing things online. And the funny thing about it is, when they support those companies, and they buy from them, they’re actually hurting themselves in the process. What people got to get back to understanding is that you got to sell a value, not just a cheap piece of gear that you could throw out there to solve a specific problem.
So, we’ve always gone out of our way to show this difference. For example, with AV over IP, we didn’t want to make another encoder/decoder on the market. We made a transceiver. Well, no one ever did a transceiver before that. Well, why did we do it? Because we saw that it would lower skew counts, we saw that it would help with serviceability. When it comes to wall plates, it opens up new capabilities where I could put a wall plate, make it an output into dual monitors at the front of the room, so it’s not just an input.
Our slogan is “Changing the topology of the event”. So when you have something like this going on, and believe it or not, you’ll find this out about me, I love to go off in left field, but it eventually comes back around and you’ll understand how it all comes back together again. The point is, when you look at what’s going on right now, a lot of companies are going, “oh my god, what am I going to do? I’m going to go out of business.” Well, you know, and they just think about what they do at that moment in time. And what you really need to do, in times like this is, rise to the occasion and think about what can be done. And it’s not just so much to save your own company. It’s really to save everybody else too.
So when we looked at this, and even our partner was on the same page with us. It wasn’t just about making money when we did this, it was about saving an industry. We saw statistics saying that up to 20% of AV integrators could go out of business from this, in a matter of hours, because no one’s installing the way they were because of no public gatherings, no installations.
So, when we did it, we knew there were two phases to this: making a box sale and making a long term integration sale like this. And then controlling the pipeline to make certain that it’s done professionally. So, part of the rules was: keeping an equal playing field. no online web sales, no distribution, all authorized dealers. So this way, it kept a very strict proper trained channel. And in doing so, it protected the channel. It doesn’t create this, “oh my God, we got to lower the price, we got to do all this stuff”. Yeah, there’s other solutions out there. You get what you pay for, as they say and if that’s what you want more power to you. Hopefully you get supported. Hopefully it does what you need to do. But at the end of the day, what we’re doing is a true integrated solution.
So what we did was that we identified a problem, and we solved it. We didn’t want to just call people up and tell them, “oh, how are you? How’s it going over there? Yeah, I got nothing to tell you, but I wanted to shoot it with you and see what happens, you know, just to say, Hi!”
People don’t want to see people saying, “Hi!” They want to see what are you going to do to help me keep my company in business? So, that’s what happened. We pow-wowed and we said, what is it going to take not just to save our own business, but to save everybody else who’s alone with the right for us? And not just even our channel, the end users too, because we saw this as a device to help keep businesses growing, and to help open them up again. So I’m actually really proud to say that between me, and my partner, Mike and all the other people in my company who have been involved in this, we really went out of our way to make sure that we didn’t do this just for Aurora, that we did this for our industry. And we did this for the world, where people could start opening back up and I gotta say, of all the products we’ve ever developed, this one’s probably the most proud one we’ve done because of the implications it has for everybody. And it’s a real world effect that it’s having.
Did you have clients or integrator partners who were specifically asking for this or, as you said, was this your pow-wow where you looked at what was going on and figured out, “okay, this is the thing that’s going to be needed”?
Paul: Well, this circles back around to the beginning of the conversation. We started partnering with Diversified. And normally, I don’t bring up specific integrators because it’s usually not appropriate for a manufacturer to do that. In this particular case, I will, simply because they actually did play a role, and it’s benefiting all the other integrators out there.
So when we first got started with this, we had some good friends and they happened to be local to us. And while we do stay neutral with everybody, they also saw the same thing as well and they actually worked with us to help get statistics of what was needed to understand the market where we need to go with this, to integrate it. And Diversified did something too that a lot of other integrators did not do, which is the value added and they showed that it’s about value. And hopefully other integrators will follow suit with that. But they have their own special stuff and their own service ability that goes along with it that rides on top of even what we’ve done. They’ve even identified that there are certain things that you do to this product to make it better serviceable to do other things with it. So they actually were about partnerships. And I gotta say, Diversified, they’ve been a fantastic partner. I really couldn’t ask for anything more out of a company.
We’ve had other very good integrators as well out there who’ve also stepped up big time. But they were probably one of the first that got in early with us that really saw the vision of this with us and jumped right on it and they will probably be one of the first to market with this. So, you know, I’m very proud of the work that they did with us. And they seem to be very happy with what, you know, you have to ask them on that one. But I would like to think they’re very happy with what we’re doing in return. And I think everybody ultimately did benefit from that.
There are other products that I’ve seen in recent weeks come along, a lot of them having to do with access control, and kind of red/green digital foot traffic lights, to control numbers of people coming into stores using computer vision, to try to identify the density of a store and when more people can be laid in. Have you guys been looking at, kind of, extending beyond just the thermal sensor into other aspects of helping retailers and businesses deal with this, “new norm”?
Paul: Yeah, we’re looking at other things. Unfortunately, I can’t go into everything that we’re doing. But I will say this from the tablet standpoint, um, we have features like face masks, detection, people counting, gestures. Things that are coming along that you can see, that will take it to another level. So, you know, like I said, it’s not just the thermal tablet. You can put Stop/Go based on counts and things like that over time. So it’s going to continue to grow and to evolve.
We do have some of the things that work in the background that, you know, which unfortunately, like I said, which we can’t talk about, but we’re looking at this as as a new market pivot, which is something that, if done correctly, we can, you know, take it to a whole nother level and make it itself. Just like you have LED wall sales and AV over IP sales, this is going to be thermal tablet sales, but on an international level. And that’s the big difference. If you don’t do it on an integration level, that’s just another commodity that you could buy anywhere. And like I’ve already pointed out, that would be the right product for some customers, you know, there is a right product for everybody, but for the majority, if you take advantage of what we’re doing, it really does have a return on investment.
I mean, look at Ad space, for example. You know you’ve got the person captive for three seconds. I mean, how sweet is it if, let’s say, your pharmaceutical company to put up an ad for, you know, one of the medications out there? You have three seconds of their time to basically say, “hey, look at this!”, or if no one’s out there, to use the screen to just show a video of something. You’re getting ad space dollars, you’re getting something else out of it, or you’re getting another message through it, doesn’t even have to be ad space, it just has to be instructional, maybe, “welcome to the so and so company”, you know, and “come upstairs”, and then they do that. And then if they see that they need to start engaging the thermal aspects of it again, they could say, “hey, come over here”, “stand still”, “you’re looking all gray, come upstairs.” See, I mean, you could really control the message and even make it extremely friendly.
Avixa has been doing a Weekly Impact survey talking to its membership, about how things are going, and I’ve been paying attention to that it seems in the last couple of weeks, there’s a sense that, while it’s still a very dark period that you’re now having some end users and some integration partners, seeing jobs start to pop up again, or at least the conversations are starting. Are you seeing that as well?
Paul: You know, I hear different things from different people. Some are sad, where you hear that they’ve laid off a lot of people and they’ve cut salaries in half. I’ve heard those stories too many times. Some are staying busy based on, and this goes back to what we were talking about before, it really depends on how they’ve adapted to the market or what the market happened to be that by coincidence keeps moving and keeps earning revenue. So understanding what markets out there are still viable and active are the key things to pay attention to. Just like with what we did here. We identified something and we turned it into, you know, as they say lemon into lemonade. You gotta make something out of it. If you sit still waiting for something to fix your problems, you’re going to go out of business.
You become proactive and research and look at things that can make something better for you. Well, then you stand to do quite well for yourself, and you’ll survive this and in some cases, maybe even do better. We have some people actually doing better because of what we’ve come out with, which is amazing to hear. And, like I said, it makes us feel really good because that’s exactly what we wanted to hear, that’s exactly what we wanted to do. You know, as they say, what comes around goes around. So we’re hoping that when this is all over, people will hopefully remember what we’re trying to step up into. And maybe learn more about our other products and, you know, return the favor for us just to show the type of character that this company has and that way the type of company you want to work with, the type of company you want to support.
All right, Paul, thank you so much for your time. That was a great chat.
Paul: Yes, same here. Thank you so much.
Dave Haynes is the founder and editor of Sixteen:Nine, an online publication that has followed the digital signage industry for some 14 years. Dave does strategic advisory consulting work for many end-users and vendors, and also writes for many of them. He’s based near Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Canada’s east coast.