VIENNA, VA - New from Lucidiom is the "Touch Prints" Automated Photo Machine (APM), a networked console that invites patrons to print photos taken with digital cameras.
Available in a variety of configurations, it may be deployed as a self-service digital editing and printing station , a vending machine dispensing digital prints. Alternatively, APMs can be installed in attended locations ranging from "one-hour" photofinishing stores to service desks or counters in a wide range of public locations.
Lucidiom is a leading imaging technology company, and it recognized a market need for a simple, fast and attractive way for digital camera users to purchase finished prints when they lack access to their own computers, image editing software and color printers. The design objective was to permit patrons to buy finishing services the way they always have, but to modernize and accelerate the transaction.
The company points out that the dramatic increase in digital camera use over the past several years has created a growing need for an equivalent to the small, automated color film processing machines that revolutionized photofinishing a generation ago. Lucidiom is not alone in recognizing this potential market. Photographic companies like Agfa, Eastman Kodak, Fuji, Konica, Olympus and Polaroid are vying with computer titans like Sony to develop and market standalone equipment that automates digital image editing and printmaking. Some of these systems also permit customers to transfer their images to permanent compact disc media.
According to Lucidiom, all of those companies have produced practical systems that differ in detail, but share one overall design limitation: their model is the one-hour photofinisher, so they require onboard color printers and attendants. Moreover, at present, those onboard printers require 15 to 30 seconds to output a 4" x 6" print , and the cost per print is approximately twice as high as that charged by most photofinishers for traditional silver-based color photographic prints.
Lucidiom's alternative is a technology and business model that enables consumers and retailers to buy and sell digital photofinishing services in a way that's familiar to them, and that's versatile enough for any environment. This offers a new profit opportunity for vending operations and other entrepreneurial services, the company explained.
Depending on the location and the market, the edited image files can be sent over the network to a nearby APM station (equipped with a printer). Or patrons can opt to have their images printed on silver-based color photographic paper by a central photofinishing laboratory, which also can store the edited images on a CD-ROM. The lab will process, package and mail the finished work to the customer. Other services, such as sending images to friends and family over the Internet, may be selected as well. The network also handles back-end transaction processing, including credit card authentication and merchant services.
The network is the key, because it allows "Touch Prints" consoles to be deployed as remote terminals that give patrons access to fast, sophisticated image editing software and a variety of other services provided by Lucidiom's host computer. Offloading these functions to the Lucidiom central server allows the "Touch Prints" console to be, in effect, an economical "thin client" device featuring industry-standard PC architecture.
The initial version features IBM hardware with an Intel "Pentium 4" processor, a 40GB hard drive, 256MB of RAM, and a 56K modem; it runs under the popular "Windows 2000" operating system. A magnetic credit-card reader, a thermal receipt printer and a 15" flat-panel LCD touchscreen monitor complete the package.
The "Touch Prints" console can function in almost any location without an attendant (thus, Automated Photo Machine), so it can offer the same "24/7" convenience as any other vending machine. Beyond that convenience, Lucidiom's network provides unique advantages, according to chief executive officer Steven Giordano, Sr.
Giordano compared the APM to an automated teller machine, because both are based on networks that process the customer's transaction and deliver the product when it's complete.
"The Automated Photo Machine is a network system that enables an enterprise to enter the digital image processing business without the overhead, and without the management headaches," Giordano told VT.
The "Touch Prints" user interface is designed to be intuitive, the Lucidiom CEO added. The patron simply inserts the storage medium from a digital camera , "CompactFlash," "SmartMedia" or "Memory Stick" solid-state cards, CD- or DVD-ROM, or floppy disk , into the appropriate slot on the console. The machine reads the medium and displays the images on its monitor screen, so the user can select the best ones to print.
Then, inserting a credit card enables the purchase and opens an on-screen window to accept the customer's delivery address. The screen also displays an invitation to order additional sets of prints, to send prints to additional addresses, or to store them on Lucidiom's central computer for subsequent Internet access. Patrons may create their own individual accounts at Lucidiom's website, www.MyPhotosNow.com. When the transaction is complete, the APM prints a receipt for the customer.
KEEP IT SIMPLE
The unit's system software limits the photo editing options available to the user; it is largely automatic, optimized to correct under- or overexposure and red-eye. The editing software will meet or exceed the typical picture taker's expectations, Giordano explained.
"What we're doing at Lucidiom," he reported, "is extending the reach of the photo lab." He recalled the time before the automated teller machine, as recently as the early 1980s, when bank customers who needed cash had to go to a bank branch during business hours and wait in line for an available teller.
"Our concept is very similar to that of the ATM, which extended access to a bank's services. We would like to see APMs placed in all kinds of locations where people are taking pictures."
Giordano uses as an example the maternity ward at nearby Fairfax County Hospital, where some 40 babies are delivered every day. "Visualize the potential of an APM here," he said. "There's a MotoPhoto (photofinishing) store less than a half mile from the hospital, but most of the fathers are unaware of it. Using an APM, new parents who own digital cameras would be able to have their babies' photos processed, and sent anywhere. Immediate sharing is a powerful proposition, evoking strong emotion. Or imagine you're on vacation in Ocean City, MD and your digicam's memory card is filled. What do you do? Buy another one , if you can find one , for $80? Not if you can go to an APM on the boardwalk to process your photo files, freeing up the memory on your card. You can have a set of prints sent to your hotel room, another set mailed to your mother-in-law and have the files stored on the Internet, where you can access them and print them when it's convenient. Pictures are stored and secure, and your memory card is free. This is what we mean by extending reach."
Giordano sees a new revenue opportunity for traditional vending locations in this new convenience and freedom. "Operating companies that provide vending services for large corporate or institutional locations can deploy APMs as adjuncts to their food and beverage business. Today's executives are working longer hours, and may not have time to stop by the local drugstore or minilab to get traditional silver-based films developed. But if they use a digital camera, they can process their images at a 'Touch Prints' terminal at their workplaces and have the prints delivered to their offices."
Giordano continued: "Vending operators can now offer their clientele an innovative product. Best of all, this new product doesn't have to be warehoused and delivered."
Lucidiom considers the market for its concept to be unlimited. It also believes that the remote model , which uses central processing centers to receive, process, package and mail prints , is critical to the concept's success.
In 2001, Giordano pointed out, 70 billion consumer pictures were processed worldwide from traditional film, and 5% of those photos were digitized by scanning to photo CD media. In the same year, 30 billion photos were taken using digital cameras. The migration from traditional film to digital is expected to grow significantly over the next four years, increasing demand for a convenient commercial alternative to the home computer/printer setup. And while an APM location can be equipped with a high-quality printer, Giordano sees his company's remote model as generally more efficient, meeting the needs of the majority of consumers.
"Seventy percent of all traditional photos are finished at central labs today," the Lucidiom CEO said. "Of the 30% developed at the more expensive one-hour finishers, only 5% of them are picked up within the hour. In fact, most customers don't pick them up until the end of the day, or the next day.
"It's not necessarily a good idea to maintain a printer on location. It can take up to 30 seconds to print a single image," Giordano cautioned. "Therefore, it can take as long as 30 minutes to print 60 image files. You don't want to tie up the machine with one customer for a long period of time. And a professional, quality processing house can produce better prints."
Lucidiom is working with major processing labs worldwide. Turnaround is normally two to three days. A traveler from Japan visiting the United States, Europe or Australia, Giordano instanced, can process picture files at his hotel two days before his return trip and have his pictures waiting for him when he arrives home.
There are locations that will benefit from onsite printing capabilities. In these sites, Giordano recommends that the printer be placed in an area where there's a location representative. In large environments, such as amusement parks, multiple APMs and printer pickup stations can be connected over a local-area network. Of course, the customer always has the option of sending the job to the central lab.
"Our concept is designed to work within existing consumer patterns," Giordano noted. "Customers can decide to pick up their photos immediately and pay a premium. Or they can wait a few days and get them at a discount."
Lucidiom has been testing the "Touch Prints" APM at several locations belonging to a Fortune 500 retail company. The trial, Giordano reported, has been so successful that the national retail chain is considering placing an APM system in each of its more than 600 outlets.
The "Touch Prints" APM offers a choice of 4" x 6" photos, 5" x 7" photos and 8" x 10" photos. It can also do much more. For instance, a customer can "repurpose" selected images to be used for calendars, coffee mugs, greeting cards, mouse pads and T-shirts.
Operators, thus, will be able to offer a variety of products at different prices. The earnings potential for the operator, Giordano added, can be as high as 80% of an APM's gross take. At the present test sites, 4" x 6" prints are selling for 49¢, 5" x 7" for 99¢ and 8" x 10" for $2.99.
"'Touch Prints' allows marketers to interact with Lucidiom's network," Giordano added. APM operators can also use the Internet to monitor their machines. They can program instructions for service notification, identifying failures in the memory reading, credit card and printing devices. Screens can be customized by the location or the operator to complement a theme, special event or holiday.
"Touch Prints" was introduced to the vending trade during this month's AMOA International Expo in Las Vegas. Cabinet construction and systems integration is being done by Valley-Dynamo LP. The company also is working with IBM to build the hardware for its corporate systems. The APM supports direct or remote printing, and is compatible with all leading photographic printers, including inkjet, dye sublimation, color laser and silver halide printers from such manufacturers as Agfa, Fuji, Gretag, Hewlett-Packard, Indigo, Kodak, Konica, Noritsu and Sony.
Founded in April 2001, Lucidiom has developed the first enterprise software for self-servicing digital imaging. While Lucidiom is a young company, Giordano and his management and technical teams have more than 75 years' experience in development and marketing in the photofinishing and digital imaging industry. The team , which includes his son Steve Giordano Jr., president and CTO, and Judy Mezzullo, executive vice-president , is regarded as the leading innovator in the film processing industry.
In 1993, they launched a company, Floppy Shots, which created an automated system that scanned 35mm film and placed it on a floppy disc. The Floppy Shots technology was acquired by Kodak, which continues to use it today. In 1996, the team established a company that developed high-speed scanners that were capable of scanning 5,500 pictures per hour. That company, Digital Now, held 74% of the world market for high-speed scanning when it went public in 2000. While developing high-speed scanners at Digital Now, Giordano realized that there was great potential for a mechanism to process and print digital images.
Lucidiom Inc. is headquartered at 8130 Boone Blvd., Suite 350, Vienna, VA 22182; tel. (703) 564-3400; fax (703) 848-3015; www.lucidiom.com.