Proto Launches RetailSage, Pairing Hologram-ish Displays With Conversational AI

January 18, 2024 by Dave Haynes

The company that originated (as far as I can tell) the idea of using transparent LCD displays as life-sized hologram-ish visual illusions has now worked conversational AI into its expanding product offer.

LA-based Proto, known in its earlier days as Portl, was at NRF in New York earlier this week and announced what it calls RetailSage, the “holographic conversational AI platform for retail.”

The idea is that Proto’s transparent displays – from small versions to the flagship that’s the size of a shower stall – are paired with an AI engine that can do a back-and-forth with shoppers at the screen for things like product expertise, recommendations, and other responses to customer queries.

Hi-fidelity, interactive volumetric images can be displayed on Proto units of various sizes and provide realistic customer driven product demonstrations, without the need for physical inventory. 

Editor – Hologram/holography purists would take considerable exception to this being labeled a hologram or volumetric. From Wikipedia: A volumetric display device is a display device that forms a visual representation of an object in three physical dimensions, as opposed to the planar image of traditional screens that simulate depth through a number of different visual effects.

These things are the same transparent LCDs that have been around for more than a decade, but they’ve been optimized with better LED edge lighting and clever subject lighting and video capture techniques.

That said, I can respect that the marketers need to call it something, and the general public has a vague, movie-driven idea of holograms.

“RetailSage is like being able to discuss any aspect of a product manual without having to go to an app or look for a sales associate,” says David Nussbaum, Proto’s founder and CEO. “It’s essentially products that sell themselves. And customers who can get real answers to their questions while interacting with holograms will be happier with their decisions and be more satisfied overall. We’re going to change shopping for good.” 

From the PR:

For the retailer, in addition to creating an immersive interactive experience customers will remember, RetailSage provides a way to reduce physical inventory and storage costs, reduce environmental impact with fewer display materials, and reduce shrinkage and returns. The interactions with customers provide insights from integrated data sources, learn from customer behavior and preferences, discover new directions for personalized customer offers and improve inventory and marketing decisions. 

“Our vision with RetailSage was to blend the digital and physical aspects of retail in a way that’s never been done before,” says Raffi Kryszek, Proto’s Head of Product and AI Innovation. “The AI-driven holographic interactions provide customers with an immersive and informative experience, while giving retailers a powerful tool to optimize staffing and operational efficiency.”

RetailSage is the followup to the launch of ProtoGPT in September, which created the world’s first AI hologram avatars. ProtoGPT is already being tested and implemented by Proto’s Fortune 500 clients around the world in retail, finance, healthcare, hospitality and more. 

I suppose the market will decide on whether this is needed and wanted. I certainly think there’s a role for conversational AI in busy retail environments that have a lot of complicated products and store associates who are needed in three places and don’t have deep product knowledge. The question is whether that’s improved markedly using a hologram-ish display versus a move conventional flat panel that is a fraction of the cost.

The smallish tabletop version of this tech is $6,900 USD, which would probably get an “Ok, very cool … we’ll get back to you” response from a lot of retail merchandisers.


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