Japanese billboards are watching back

In Japan, NTT is testing a digital billboard system that watches back.

Don't look now, but the advertisements are watching you.

No, it's not a scene from the movie "Minority Report" where digital signboards served up personalized ads depending on who was passing by, but a real-life example at a Tokyo railway station. Above a flat-panel display hawking DVDs and books sits a small camera hooked up to some image processing software.

When trials begin in January the camera will scan travellers to see how many of them are taking note of the panel. It's part of a technology test being run by NTT Communications.

"On many street corners and railway stations there are many digital signs," said Tetsuya Kinebuchi, a senior research engineer at NTT's Cyber Space Laboratories and developer of the system. "To automatically measure the effectiveness of the advertisements we can put a camera and PC nearby, and by using the image from the camera we can estimate how many people are looking at the monitor."

Japanese cities are plastered with advertisements. From building-topping billboards to smaller ads around town, it seems like you're never far away from a commercial message, and increasingly these are digital signboards. The effectiveness of delivering a message digitally is still not well understood but that could change with this technology.

The system has its limits. It doesn't seek to identify individuals -- NTT is worried about the negative implications of such a system -- but it will attempt to figure out how many of the people standing in front of an advertisement are actually looking at it.

"It uses image detection software," said Kinebuchi. "We gathered together many faces and came up with an average Japanese face, and by using pattern matching the system recognizes faces from the image."

A second camera, which wasn't fitted at the station but will be when tests begin in January, will take care of estimating how many people are in front of the ad, whether they are looking at it or not.

NTT is Japan's largest telecommunications company and its interest in the system goes beyond the technology. The company has a content distribution system for digital signs and the work will help gather data that it could use to sell such a service and promote digital advertising in general.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags advertising

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Martyn Williams

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?