Project ESSAI has assessed the benefits and opportunities for IBC tele-shopping applications addressing the general public in open locations. Project objectives are to provide the basic concepts and architecture of future tele-shopping systems, implement terminals and a centre of operation for the sales of services and goods based on an IBC network and conduct controlled experiments in a real environment in order to determine acceptance vis-a-vis the general public.
The main objective of the research was to assess the benefits and opportunities for integrated broadband communications (IBC) teleshopping applications addressing the general public in open locations. Specific objectives were:
to provide the basic concepts and architecture of future teleshopping systems;
to implement terminals and a centre of operation for the sale of services and goods based on an IBC network;
to conduct controlled experiments in a real environment in order to determine acceptance vis a vis the general public.
Key issues in the research include:
the practicalities of teleshopping applications;
optimization of the human interface;
optimum application of basic network and service capabilities.
During 1992, the following was accomplished:
the definition of basic teleshopping system aspects;
the functional design of the demonstrators;
detailed specifications for the first demonstrator; the start of the implementation phase.
With the emergence of broadband communication networks, new possibilities in the field of automated sale of services become available. In particular:
- Expensive multimedia databases can be implemented in a control centre and made available to remote low-cost vending terminals through broadband network facilities.
- Interactive user interfaces can be implemented by using high quality pictures and sound to guide users through a complex service system.
- Centralised checking of users' identity and authorisation to use services can be achieved.
- Full control of operations through on-line terminals can be provided.
- New help functionality is also possible: for all cases which cannot be foreseen by the application software a video/sound connection with a human operator can be set up, thus giving human answers to human problems.
To achieve the above mentioned goals project ESSAI has developed and implemented two demonstrators. The first was operated in Milan (I) in 1993/94 on a broadband non-ATM infrastructure. This demonstrator was primarily for tuning and proving the service functionality of the tele-shopping application. The second demonstrator will be operated in Basel (CH) in 1994/95 on the EXPLOIT ATM testbed. In both cases real customers buy real services from real service providers (for real money).
- The practicalities of tele-shopping applications.
- User acceptance.
- Optimisation of the human interface.
- Optimum application of basic network and service capabilities.
Sufficient evidence is available to indicate that automated service sales are needed and will most probably be common in the travel sector by the end of the century. Project ESSAI has demonstrated that there are technical, and economically viable solutions for this. Support for the general sale of goods may also be provided: vending terminals can in fact deliver vouchers allowing customers to get their purchase at special (automated) stores or via mail delivery.
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