Tokyo trials digital billboards that scan passers-by

July 15, 2010
A man walks past a digital advertising display at a Tokyo station. Digital advertising billboards being trialled in Japan are fitted with cameras that read the gender and age group of people looking at them to tailor their commercial messages.

Digital advertising billboards being trialled in Japan are fitted with cameras that read the gender and age group of people looking at them to tailor their commercial messages.

The technology -- reminiscent of the personalised advertisements in Steven Spielberg's sci-fi movie "Minority Report" -- forms part of the Digital Signage Promotion Project, which is currently in a test phase.

A consortium of 11 railway companies launched the one-year pilot project last month, and has set up 27 of the high-tech advertising displays in subway commuter stations around Tokyo.

"The camera can distinguish a person's sex and approximate age, even if the person only walks by in front of the display, at least if he or she looks at the screen for a second," said a spokesman for the project.

If data for different locations is analysed, companies can provide interactive advertisements "which meet the interest of people who use the station at a certain time," the project said in a statement.

While in "Minority Report" advertisers recognise individuals such as Tom Cruise's character by name and make purchasing suggestions, the Japanese project does not identify people and only collates .

The technology uses face recognition software to glean the gender and age group of passers-by, but operators have promised they will save no recorded images, only the collated data about groups of people.

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not rated yet Jul 15, 2010
As long as it can't access any personal information I don't see a problem with it.
not rated yet Jul 15, 2010
I would like it if it could be arranged that the billboards I drive by would display my latest Twitter updates. It would make drive time much more productive and pleasant. A polarized, multilayer display could work so that the messages could only be seen from the angle of my vehicle. People in other vehicles would be seeing their own messages. The police have cameras that can read the license plate of a car going 60 mph from hundreds of yards away. I frankly don't see any insurmountable technical hurdles to moving these systems into everyday life. Irrational fear of technology should not be allowed to stand as an excuse. Let's get on with it.
1 / 5 (1) Jul 15, 2010
Image processing. i.e. they have your picture, if they are identifying age and sex, it's very simple for them to make one photo with another-such as photos in a DMV database.

All this danger for what, more advertising. Don't you think we get enough already?
not rated yet Jul 15, 2010
Its kind of interesting to see the confidence that companies have gotten using Google's street view as a precedent and how much we will start to see the companies using public situations for their own products and services. And I don't know the specs of the scanner or if it retains the photos so I don't know how "safe" it actually is. But I get that the idea is no different than having someone standing on a street corner counting people, ages, and gender. The only real issue is if people walking by know they are being scanned or is it being done against their knowledge? This technology isn't new. Public services and law enforcement use it everyday, especially in major cities, but this is one of the first times I've heard of a private company using it for market research.
not rated yet Jul 15, 2010
The biggest problem I have with this kind of thing is that it'd look at me, and then give me adverts completely irrelevant to my interests.
not rated yet Jul 16, 2010
What determines whose attention the ad is going for when groups of people look at the screen? Advertising is directed to the masses for best effect and greatest profitability, so this is actually not an advancement.

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