Billboards beam adverts to passing cellphones
17:39 22 August 2005
Ignoring adverts is about to get a lot tougher with the development of billboards and advertising posters that use Bluetooth to beam video ads direct to passing cellphones.
As people walk past the posters they receive a message on their phone asking them if they wish to accept the advert. If they do, they can receive movies, animations, music or still images further promoting the advertised product.
“It's all about delivering high quality content, tailored for mobile usage,” says Alasdair Scott, co-founder and chief creative officer of London-based Filter UK, who created the system, called BlueCasting.
Working with advertising company Maiden Group, also in London, trials of the system were recently held at six London railway stations. Poster locations for rock band Coldplay’s new album offered to beam further promotional material, including song clips from the album, to the phones of passers-by.
The posters detected 87,000 Bluetooth phones over a two week period, of which about 17% were willing to download the clip, says Scott.
The system works by having a large directional Bluetooth transmitter behind the billboard that searches the region up to 100 metres in front of the advert for any phones with their Bluetooth function turned on.
This way you can make sure that only people who can see the billboard are offered the additional promotion, says Simon O’Regan, Filter UK’s Technical Officer. “It’s inherently proximity-based broadcasting,” he says.
Furthermore, there is no risk of downloading viruses or other malware to the phone, says O’Regan: “We don’t send applications or executable code.” The system uses the phone’s native download interface so they should be able to see the kind of file they are downloading before accepting it, he adds.
Ollie Whitehouse, a Bluetooth computer security expert at Symantec, in Dublin, Ireland agrees: “On the whole there should be no risk to users at all.”
But that does not mean that all non-executable files are safe, notes Whitehouse. Files formatted to look like jpeg picture files have been created in the past that exploit inherent vulnerabilities in particular hardware, causing it to crash, he says.
A bigger question in all likelihood is how the companies will persuade users to accept the adverts once the novelty has worn off. “If we can provide exclusive or valuable content to consumers, they'll actively want to consume it,” says Scott. Unlike spam, these promotions will have something to offer, he claims, such as content or vouchers.
Elsewhere, other software companies, such as ScanBuy in New York and Semacode in Ontario, have been experimenting with making posters interactive by having 3D barcodes printed on them.
Their software allows a phone camera to scan the code and launch the phone’s browser at a particular e-commerce site – to buy concert tickets, for example. But with BlueCasting, downloading is a lot faster and, importantly, free, because it uses the Bluetooth connection and not the cellphone network.
If BlueCasting still sounds too intrusive, there is always one solution, says Whitehouse: “Just make sure your Bluetooth device is set so that it’s not discoverable to other devices.”
Sounds like some teens will be having fun with transmitters and bb guns soon.
I give it a week before someone hacks the transmitter and gets it to send ot porn to passer-bys.
Wonder if you could develope a box that would collect thousands of messages a second to suck up the bandwidth.
Teens with bb guns my ass. They gotta get there before I do with my microwave gun!