Japanese ad platform mixes image recognition, GPS, time data

Users will take pictures of posters or commercials to get offers and info based on where they are and what time it is

One of Japan's largest ad agencies will soon launch a new ad platform that mixes image recognition software with GPS and time data from smartphones to link consumers with product information.

The new system from Tokyo-based Hakuhodo, which launches Feb. 18, is based around a mobile app that consumers use to take pictures of ads or commercials. The app uses image-matching technology with an online database of ads to send relevant offers or data back to the user.

The "Kokoku Plus" app also records a GPS location and time stamp for each picture, so the information sent by advertisers can be varied based on where and when an ad is encountered. The app requires no registration or personal information from users to operate. "Kokoku" is the Japanese word for "advertisement."

"This is the next step from barcodes and links in advertisements," said Hakuhodo spokeswoman Yukiko Ono. She said the company hopes to expand the platform abroad eventually, but has no solid plans to do so yet.

QR, or "quick response" codes are common in Japan, often appearing in the corner of magazine and street ads. Hakuhodo hopes to replace the boxy two-dimensional barcodes, which users must carefully scan in using reader software, with the ads themselves.

The codes are steadily gaining popularity outside of Japan as well -- comScore said last year that QR code use over the summer months doubled from 2011.

The new platform uses image recognition software called "Gaziru" from Japanese electronics giant NEC. The company built the software to solve the complex problem of recognizing images of real-world objects regardless of the angle from which they are photographed, of which identifying ads is a small subset.

The initial launch of Kokoku Plus will include ads and commercials from major Japanese advertisers including Daihatsu, Hitachi, and Suntory.

The app will also take user motions as commands. For example, flicking a phone at an advertisement after it has been identified by the software will bring up more information about its products, while shaking it downwards will download related coupons.

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Jay Alabaster

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