Visitor after visitor at two recent technology events stopped in their tracks as they encountered PRSONAS – a striking, interactive hologram who welcomed them.

These have the potential to provide a big impact at trade shows and other events where companies want to sell their products, share their company history, generate sales leads – and capture plenty of data about each visitor far beyond the data that could be captured from a business card.

So what the heck are they? Robots? Avatars? A 21st Century Data android in the making?

“They are technically ‘photorealistic human projections’ driven by artificial intelligence to engage consumers in a personalized, interactive experience,” says David Rose, the serial entrepreneur who runs the Durham startup.

“The term ‘virtual presenter’ is starting to catch on for this technology.”

And PRSONAS brands theirs as “smart” since each is interactive with a variety of capabilities – including multiple languages. 

While not a full-size moving Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Charity” is a life-size mannequin with a hologram head, a very human voice and a touchscreen for interaction. But there is even more now than what the Durham startup that also is called PROSNAS displayed earlier this year.

Charity and her follow-on “Angeline” are the creation of Chuck Rinker, a former NASA engineer and Electronic Arts game director. PRSONAS are now headed to market in a new, even more interactive release. 

Live via the Net

Not only does Angeline speak in multiple languages, she also captures and analyzes data through analytics software.

Is she live? Well, she is connected to the Internet.

The first time I saw PROSNAS I stopped dead in my tracks. While not a 3D figure, PRSONAS appears to be about as close as current technology can get to a Star Trek holodeck personality. Is that a fair comparison, The Skinny asked Rose?

“PRSONAS do have great stopping power,” he says with a huge smile. “They look very much like a real person so they definitely catch the eye of anyone / everyone in relatively close proximity. They aren’t really 3D but they look like they are from only a few feet away.”

Before getting into the technology and development, WRALTechWire asked where the name PRSONAS came from.

A Name from Shakespeare’s Days

“PRSONAS is a take off of the word ‘Personas,'” Rose explains. “The domain was taken so we shortened the name to PRSONAS. The logo design we selected had all the letters of the name capitalized so we stuck with that format.

“The origin of the term ‘personas’ comes from the days of Shakespeare when one actor would play multiple roles in a play. Our PRSONAS units can play multiple roles for brands including sales, marketing and support roles.”

PRSONAS has already sold several models. They retail for around $20,000, Rose says. Plus there is a monthly service fee.

Each device is custom designed for the buying customer, and links to the Internet ensure the interactivity.

So what are Rose and Rinker trying to accomplish with PRSONAS? What needs – or pain points – are they addressing?

The Pain Point Relief

“Today, most companies are using virtual presenters at trade shows and corporate events to attract attention of consumers,” Rose explains. “The stopping power of virtual presenters is exceptionally strong.

“Our clients have used PRSONAS units to help launch a new drug in London, ask for and collect credit card donations at a museum and even give a 45 minute presentation on the discovery of insulin in Copenhagen Denmark.

“The pain points we are trying to address mostly apply to brands that have a presence in the physical world  - not online only. The pain points we address are:

  1. The need for stopping power and customer engagement
  2. Customers increasing desire for self-service
  3. Gathering CRM style analytics on consumer interests and preferences
  4. The automatic delivery of personalized marketing messages and offers
  5. The ability to interact with consumers in many / multiple languages”

According to Rose, a PRSONAS can be designed and delivered in “as little as a week” once the script and interactive user experience has been approved.

And, yes, each unit cane be assigned a name by the client.

“Our demo unit,” Rose says, “introduces herself as Charity.”

Coming in Part Two: Inside the guts of PRSONAS.