Architecture and Hardware

‘Magic Mirror on My Wall…’

Smart mirrors serve as both mirror and media hub.
Smart mirrors, which integrate displays, sensors, and a camera, and offer Internet connectivity and touchscreen features, are gaining momentum in the healthcare, automotive, and retail industries, as well as on campus.

When students at Lone Star College in Houston, TX, arrived back at school for the new semester in August, they were greeted with smart mirrors in the library/resource center that are not just there for adornment purposes, but to provide information about campus resources.

"The mirror is a tool that can connect students to resources that foster a positive self-image and encourage [a] growth mindset,'' says Keri Porter, chief strategist of innovation and research at Houston-based Lone Star College-University Park. "Students can ask the mirror for positive affirmations, an encouraging quote, or even ask what resources on campus … [they] provide academic services, but also support mental wellness."

The smart mirrors also provide information about the hours of counselors on campus, and directions to their offices; the location of the nearest meditation space, and the times of "success seminars that address the specific needs they may not feel comfortable discussing one-on-one," she adds.

Smart mirrors integrate displays, sensors, and a camera, and offer Internet connectivity and touchscreen features, according to Allied Market Research. They are gaining momentum in the healthcare, automotive, and retail industries because of features including design, convenience, safety, and the ability to provide a better customer experience, the market research firm says.

This gives new meaning to the line, "Magic mirror on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?" famously uttered by Snow White's evil stepmother, the queen, in Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Reflecting a growing demand for information at your fingertips, smart mirrors are also emerging at colleges and universities.

"We are constantly on the lookout for new technology that can enhance the student experience and contribute to student success,'' says Lone Star College president Shah Ardalan of the decision to deploy the MQ Mirror on campus.

Worldwide, the smart mirrors market is expected to grow from $1.81 billion in USD in 2017 to $4.01 billion by 2023 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 14.15% during the forecast period, according to Market Research Future.

However, high initial cost of installation and security issues associated with confidential and personal data is expected to hinder market growth, Allied Market Research adds.

Lone Star College first experimented with the MQ Mirror last March and plans to start program its own custom AI functions in the mirror, says Ardalan. The cost to deploy them would normally have been around $5,000, he says, but because LSC was willing to be a beta site, the college received a significant discount, from Soar Partners LLC, which sells the mirrors, he says.

"We are looking for fresh and new methods of providing information to students and faculty. Student engagement is a top priority," and LSC wants to create a "holistic experience for our students," that gives them access to a variety of services and applications, Ardalan says. The college doesn't want to focus just on intellectual development in the classroom, he says, "but also the environmental, financial, social, physical, and emotional well-being of our students. The mirror serves as a connection tool" to all services offered. "Time will tell how many services and applications can be accessed with the mirror."

For faculty, LSC is testing out using newspaper apps on the mirror's 4K Amazon Fire Stick streaming media player, as well as the ability to show 360-degree videos on any topic "and have the class walk into the experience in the reflection of the mirror,'' he says.

Ardalan envisions the smart mirrors being used in classrooms for collaborative purposes, and even someday replacing other communication devices. "Considering the mirror as a total replacement of a PC, smartphone, and LCD panel connected with cloud resources and AI, the potential is limitless,'' he says. "A team of faculty and staff have been working together to redesign three of our current classrooms into holistic adaptable learning spaces, and the mirror could be a part of this design."

Michael Mathews, vice president for innovation and technology at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, says he designed the MQ Mirror, which is 52 inches high, 22 inches wide and 1.4 inches deep, after seeing smart mirrors in use in the fitness space. "We saw the fitness world using the to connect to live and prerecorded fitness instruction, and knew we could and should provide this same level of personalized information to the academic world," Mathews says.

The difference is the MQ Mirror is embedded with artificial intelligence "to make all campus systems accessible via a voice command,'' he says. It also has a Raspberry Pi computer inside. The cost to deploy them is between $800 and $3,000 depending on features, Mathews says.

The mirror concept creates an entirely new method of students receiving information about access to campus services, online courses, degree pathway information, academic research, and course work, Mathews says. "With the computer behind the mirror integrated with artificial intelligence and instant access to the world of knowledge, a human is now at the center of the technology versus the device,'' he says. "The human, along with the mirror, personalizes all experiences and engagements by opening a portal into the digital world."

Esther Shein is a freelance technology and business writer based in the Boston area.

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