The crew of the starship Enterprise had a device that looked a lot like this one. Called a replicator, it could make food and other necessities materialize out of thin air. But this is not a replicator, and the woman is not Lt. Uhura. She is a model demonstrating the Java Jacket Coffee Break promotional kiosk that Equilibrium Technologies, a San Rafael, Calif.-based software vendor, used for some warp-speed marketing at the Internet World conference.
Here's the deal: Equilibrium sponsored coffee breaks between speaker sessions at the show. Attendees were instructed to take their cups, which were imprinted with a digital watermark, up to the kiosk. Waving the cup in front of the kiosk activated a scanner, which read the digital watermark. This in turn activated a screen with company information. Some watermarks were good for prizes.
The digital watermark technology, called MediaBridge, was developed by Digimarc Corp., based in Tualatin, Ore. While Digimarc's products are mostly used in anti-counterfeiting and piracy applications, they also work pretty well in promotional applications such as Equilibrium's. This particular application worked very well indeed: Internet World gave the kiosk a “Best in Show” award — the top prize among 1,000 exhibitors. According to Lori Andersen, Digimarc's director of image commerce worldwide field operations, digital watermarking uses no special inks and makes no special demands on materials. Just about anything that can be printed can be digitally watermarked.
By the way, we found out at the Star Trek Web site that Capt. Picard says he can tell the difference between replicated caviar and real caviar, and we also discovered that replicated coffee has been a plot element at various times. However, the site has nothing whatsoever to say about digital watermarking.