Bay Shore's Tensator Inc. is helping Carmelo Anthony expand his retail presence -- in virtual 3-D.
The Knicks basketball star and Olympic gold medalist is the first celebrity to make an appearance as a Tensator Virtual Assistant, a three-dimensional, life-size image projection and audio system. Anthony's 6-foot, 8-inch likeness can be seen daily at Manhattan-based Rookie USA, pitching his Nike line of clothing and sneakers. He also invites customers to shoot hoops at the store's virtual basketball court and use the interactive touch screens and kiosks located throughout the high-end children's store.
Anthony's eyes appear to follow the customers as they move from side to side, said Keith Carpentier, senior business manager at Tensator.
"Ninety-nine point nine percent of all digital signage is some form of black rectangle, and finding a way to cut through that and differentiate is the challenge," Carpentier said. But Tensator's virtual assistant breaks out of this format, he said. "You just watch people engage it and they do this doubletake," he said.
Tensator is the U.S. division of UK-based Tensator Group, which creates products and electronic systems for crowd control, checkout line management and in-store marketing and product signage. It created the virtual Anthony in Bay Shore. The audiovisual system projects Anthony's moving image onto a 3/4-inch thick acrylic cutout equipped with a special film that gathers the light and focuses the image, creating a holographic effect.
Barry Berman, a Hofstra University business professor, describes the "virtual assistant" as a form of "retailtainment" with the potential to draw people into the store.
"It's taking the digital world from the computer into the physical retail store," Berman said. "A lot has been written that online is going to be taking over sales from brick and mortar [stores], but this is a way bricks and mortar can take back some of that loss in sales."
Fran Boller, executive vice president for Nike brands at Haddad Brands, the owner of Rookie USA, said that when she saw Tensator's technology, she figured it would work with star athletes in retail stores.
"I said, 'Wow, this is an amazing item and I could totally see it with athletes,' " Boller said. She added, "Kids are so smart with technology and technologically advanced, I thought this would be something they hadn't seen before, and it's their chance to interact with an athlete."
Boller now calls it the "virtual sales assistant," because Anthony's products -- situated near the 3-D display -- are blowing off the shelves, she said.