Business booms for New Hampshire automated kiosk maker
Concord company seeds opportunity in pandemic
For 20 years, Advanced Kiosks has been designing and building self-service solutions for businesses around the country and around the globe. Using engineering and programming, the Concord-based company produces kiosks that allow people to complete tasks ranging from ordering at a restaurant to purchasing tickets or paying bills.
When the pandemic hit, the team at Advanced Kiosks realized that they had more opportunity for growth than ever before. With social distancing quickly becoming the norm, all sorts of businesses that had previously resisted automation were looking for innovative ways to deliver services without person-to-person interactions.
“We’ve been seeing people realize that they want to provide goods and services, but need to do it in a way that’s safe for patrons and staff,” said Jeff LeBlanc, director of user experience for Advanced Kiosks.
Initially, business slowed slightly, as companies considered whether or not to spend on new technology. Then, new orders started rolling in. Entities ranging from government branches like town halls and DMVs to ski resorts began reaching out to Advanced Kiosks to see what solutions were available to keep them and their customers safe.
“They’re looking to automate,” LeBlanc said. “[Clients] don’t need to talk to a person to do it, they just need to accomplish tasks.”
At the same time as they were seeing an uptick in requests for existing products, the company’s 20 employees recognized that the pandemic was creating market space for new endeavors as well. For example, they’re currently working on technology that allows people to use kiosks without having to touch the screen.
“With the pandemic, even self-service screens become questionable,” LeBlanc said. New options will allow people to control the kiosk option through hand motion, card swipes or voice, so they can complete tasks without needing to worry about when the screen was last disinfected.
Advanced Kiosks’ most pandemic-specific product is the Guardian Kiosk. The Guardian measures body temperature using thermal imaging. Since this can be done from 3 to 5 feet away, it’s a safe way to screen people without having to break social-distancing requirements. Although the temperature reading isn’t quite as sensitive as thermometers that touch a forehead, for example, LeBlanc said that it is accurate enough to identify people who might need additional screening before entering a space.
The Guardian’s second function is even more interesting. Using limited facial-recognition programming, the kiosk can detect whether or not someone is wearing a mask. If someone is not wearing a mask, the kiosk will prompt them to put one on before entering a space.
LeBlanc, who is also an adjunct professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, said that the mask screening taps into an interesting psychological pattern: people are more likely to follow a directive given by a machine.
“It helps staff try to reduce arguments with visitors,” who aren’t keen on wearing masks, he explained.
The Guardian has been on the market since late April. The units cost between $2,000 and $2,500, but Advanced Kiosks is offering a discounted rate to New Hampshire businesses. There’s even a Guardian Kiosk at Hall Memorial Library in Northfield, where LeBlanc’s wife works.
There were some challenges to bringing a product to market so quickly. The team at Advanced Kiosks had to decide what to build and buy; they also had to decide whether to make the Guardian a stand-alone unit or incorporate the offerings into existing kiosks. Given the unpredictability of the pandemic, they decided that a stand-alone offering would allow them to come to market quickly, and with the most flexibility.
Advanced Kiosks has been in business for more than 20 years, but LeBlanc said that now, more than ever, people are recognizing the value in reducing person-to-person interactions while maintaining a quality experience.
“There are a lot of people coming to us now,” he said. “There are lots of people looking for automation.”
This story is part of the 50 Businesses, 50 Solutions series, shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative, that aims to highlight how business leaders across the state, from mom-and-pop shops, to large corporations have adapted to meet the challenges and disruptions caused by the novel coronavirus in the hopes others may be able to replicate these ideas and innovations. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.