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"Smart" Billboards Debut in Sacramento 465

k0osh.CEOofCLIT writes "Remember the billboards in "Minority Report" that scanned your eyes and changed the advertisement based on your shopping preferences? The Sacramento Bee reports: "Soon, this sign along the Capital City Freeway will be able to change its message based on what radio stations motorists have tuned in.""Yeah, Chris can't spell. He and Rob should form a club. *grin*
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"Smart" Billboards Debut in Sacramento

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  • by I Love this Company! ( 547598 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @09:10PM (#4747252)
    I haven't seen it yet, you insensitive clod!
  • wow! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    TWO misspellings of "Sacramento!"
  • Privacy? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Edgewize ( 262271 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @09:10PM (#4747256)
    What I listen to in my car is nobody else's business. Anyone know how I can go about installing shielding around my radio?
    • Re:Privacy? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by cornjchob ( 514035 )
      if someone can infer the radio station you have tuned in, trust me: you're going to need more than rf shielding. more like a club to whack whoever's in your back seat listening along. there's no passive way to do this at all. this has got to be some sort of hoax, or the billboards are detecting an external peripheral hooked up to your stereo. uh uh, no way.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 24, 2002 @09:22PM (#4747357)
        "here's no passive way to do this at all"

        They have mirrors with strings strategically placed around the vicinity of the billboard/freeway.

        When a car drives past a camera detects the cars velocity and starts adjusting the mirrors untill one of them can peek through your windscreen and see where the dial is set.

        I wonder if it works for vehicles with no read/side windows ?
      • Re:Privacy? (Score:5, Informative)

        by John Hasler ( 414242 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @09:27PM (#4747400) Homepage
        > there's no passive way to do this at all.

        Wrong. All they have to do is monitor the radiation from the local oscillator in your radio. The British government uses this to detect unlicensed radios and TVs. To stop them modify your radio to use a non-standard IF.
      • Re:Privacy? (Score:5, Informative)

        by John Miles ( 108215 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @09:33PM (#4747446) Homepage Journal
        Sure, there's a "way." Most FM radios in the US, presumably including the ones in most cars, do their analog signal processing work at an intermediate frequency (IF) of 10.7 MHz. To convert the station's frequency to the IF, the radio uses a local oscillator tuned to either Fincoming+10.7 MHz or Fincoming-10.7 MHz -- usually the former, since it means the range of the oscillator is smaller as a percentage of its output frequency. So if you're listening to a station at 95.5 MHz, your radio is emitting a very weak local-oscillator signal at 106.2 MHz. A receiver at the billboard's location only has to watch for the LO signals corresponding to the stations that are paying to advertise on it at the moment. Often you can demonstrate this yourself by putting two FM radios next to each other, tuning one to a blank spot on the dial near the high (or low) end of the band and sweeping the other one back and forth across the band until it appears to interfere with the first radio.

        This is also how UK residents who operate their TV sets without the proper government license are ferreted out. A van cruises around the neighborhood listening for radiated TV local-oscillator signals from unlicensed households.
        • Re:Privacy? (Score:5, Informative)

          by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @10:48PM (#4747955) Homepage
          have you actually tried to detect that signal outside a vehicle? ok now do it to a MOVING TARGET.

          and what you are talking about is not the case.. the BBC transmits a subcarrier with a tone on it that is easily detectable. It's the same detection scheme used by american cable TV companies to snif out people stealing cable tv. It's a simple device and putting the subcarrier there makes it air tight in court.. trying to say that "we detected what channel your tv is tuned to doesnt work in court... saying we detected our special signal we transmit to catch them.... does.
        • Spoofing (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Michael Woodhams ( 112247 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @10:55PM (#4747991) Journal
          Oh, for a room with a view of the sign, a tunable Gunn oscillator, and a reflector to beam my signal at the sign.

          Hours of fun, convincing the sign that everybody leaving the football game is listening to a PBS classical music station.

          For more fun and games with Gunn oscillators, see also trolling for taillights [].

    • Re:Privacy? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by jumpingfred ( 244629 )
      Remove the radio antenna. Unfortunately this interferes with your ability to listen to radio stations. You could also design a radio that demodulates the signal in a different way than most other radios do. So that the emissions from your radio will be different than the others.
      • Your antenna has nothing to do with it. If this isn't a hoax then the way they would do it is by picking up radiation from the tuning pieces of your radio. Very hard to do as a car is flying down the high way, from far away, and having to pickup a small amount of signal in a VERY noisy environment because of all the other cars. This would be a nightmare to develop.
        • Very hard to do as a car is flying down the high way, from far away, and having to pickup a small amount of signal in a VERY noisy environment because of all the other cars

          Not really; these people aren't trying to pick up the signal from any single car, but rather pick up the total signal from all the cars combined. All they have to do is listen on all the frequencies and pick out the strongest one.

          In addition, these people are in the fortunate position of caring very little about errors. In normal circumstances, an error rate of 25% would be terrible; here, they probably wouldn't care, and quite likely wouldn't even be aware of the errors.
    • Haha.. if you do that how will you receive your radio signals?
    • Re:Privacy? (Score:3, Interesting)

      Yeah, it's called a CD player. Listen to a CD and there will be no invasion of privacy.

      • In America, *most* DJ's suck. However, there are a few DJ's (mainly on the rock stations) that are pretty funny (Walton & Johnson from Rock 101 in Houston come to mind). Sometimes CD's just get boring to listen to, especially if its the same songs repeated forever. The radio at least gives me some variety.

    • I'm generally one of those knee-jerk reaction people when it comes to privacy, but I don't have a problem with this. It's no different from someone having a webcounter on their site. I suspect you don't stay away from sites that count visitors?
    • The best way is to build a farraday cage around it (and the antenna).
    • Switch to XM.
    • ahhh, but seriously, you could probably build a jammer that would flood the frequencies they were using to detect what you were listening to. It wouldn't have to be too strong, because the information you're sending out is only a accidental side effect, anyway.

      But seriously, is what radio station you're listening to really that personal? Some people feel the need to let EVERYONE in a two and a half mile radius know exactly what radio station they're listening to...

    • Yeah, just put a Faraday cage around it. Get rid of the antenna, too; that gives off all sorts of fucken signals.
  • LA Story (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 24, 2002 @09:11PM (#4747260)
    Soon, the billboards will be giving us advice ala LA Story. "I think you would be happy if you bought a Gap Denim Jacket!"
  • Great! (Score:5, Funny)

    by NetDanzr ( 619387 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @09:12PM (#4747272)
    Considering the type of "music" I listen to, people will be treated with some good porn when I drive by. Too bad for all the traffic accidents that will follow, though...
  • Sacramento? (Score:3, Funny)

    by jessemckinney ( 398160 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @09:13PM (#4747275)
    Speeling machines anyone?
  • Good idea. :\ (Score:3, Informative)

    by gt25500 ( 622543 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @09:13PM (#4747278)
    And watch the number of accidents increase 10 fold because drivers are too busy looking at these billboards. I'm avoiding Sacramento (I know... spelling is badass).
  • generally (Score:5, Funny)

    by radiashun ( 220050 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @09:13PM (#4747284)
    i think wrapping your entire car with tinfoil and chickenwire may do the trick. then again, that might possibly amplify your signal :-/

    seriously, what's it show when you're not listening to a radio? or, even more interesting, what happens when i'm tuned into those sex-talk shows that come on after midnight. that has the potential to cause quite a few accidents!
  • smart?? (Score:5, Funny)

    by jkitchel ( 615599 ) <> on Sunday November 24, 2002 @09:13PM (#4747286)

    "Smart" Billboards Debut in Sacramnto

    does anyone else see the irony? i hope so.

    • Re:smart?? (Score:2, Funny)

      by ActiveSX ( 301342 )
      I know, they picked the stupidest place in California to put them. (I live here, it's okay)

      (and yes, I do see the spelling error)
  • So how exactly do these billboards figure out what radio stations people are listening to? Do radios emit EM signals that can be used to determine what they're tuned to (it's been a long time since I took a physics class, somebody help me out here)?
    • Re:So how . . . (Score:5, Informative)

      by spectecjr ( 31235 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @09:19PM (#4747335) Homepage
      So how exactly do these billboards figure out what radio stations people are listening to? Do radios emit EM signals that can be used to determine what they're tuned to (it's been a long time since I took a physics class, somebody help me out here)?

      Yep - as do television sets.

      It's called heterodyning, and is used to decode FM (frequency modulated) signals. Basically, you mix the signal coming in with the frequency you want to listen to, and the signal at that frequency gets amplified (due to the interference), and the outcome of that is rectified, amplified, and is ultimately what you listen to.

      So the billboard picks up the frequency you're mixing the incoming signal with (because you need a frequency generator to create that frequency, and they will emit it -- there's not much you can do to stop it short of burying it in a completely metal box -- which kind of stops the incoming radio signal).

      • Hmm... (Score:4, Informative)

        by oGMo ( 379 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @09:42PM (#4747509)
        So the billboard picks up the frequency you're mixing the incoming signal with (because you need a frequency generator to create that frequency, and they will emit it -- there's not much you can do to stop it short of burying it in a completely metal box -- which kind of stops the incoming radio signal).

        OK, I know very little on the subject, so I want to know if it would work to shield the radio, but not the antenna. Would the internal frequency it still leak "back up" the antenna? Could you extend this in some way so that it wouldn't? (Second, unshielded receiver box, sending a "shielded" signal to the receiver/decoder/whatever.) I mean (given you're paranoid enough) you could probably make a box to encode the whole signal digitally and send it encrypted to a shielded box for digital processing. If you were desperate.

        (And for those who say "who cares, why be so silly over such a small thing"... well, it might not matter now, when your radio station of preference is being monitored, but at some point, it will. That's when this knowledge becomes useful.)

        • Re:Hmm... (Score:3, Informative)

          by libre lover ( 516057 )
          That's precisely how the local oscillator is detected - it leaks back up the antenna and is radiated.

          If you're paranoid you can build your own receiver and have it use a non-standard IF frequency. It would really jack up the price of the receiver as you would not be able to take advantage of cheap off-the-shelf components - you'd have to design something akin to the transistor radios of the '60s and '70s which were packed full of individual transisors as opposed to today's designs which use one or two ICs.

          The reason this works is because 10.7 MHz is such a common IF, meaning that the internal oscillator runs at either (FM station frequency)+10.7 MHz or (FM station frequency)-10.7 MHz

      • So you're trying to tell me the billboard has a receiver so sensitive to pick up on the internal oscillator in my car radio. Not only will it pick up on this EXTREMELY low level signal, past all the noise and crap in the air, it will take an aggregate of all the cars in the area and figure the most listened to station.

        No... First off your method of demodulating an FM signal is all wrong. You got the first stage right. The RF is broken down into an intermediate frequency (IF) by mixing it with a locally generated signal. But then you are all wrong. The IF is not rectified and filtered in an FM receiver. That is for AM.

        In FM, the IF is run past a discriminator circuit. A change in frequency is interpreted as a change in amplitude and thus produces the audio.

        Finally, even if they did have a receiver that was able to pick up the signal on my local oscillator, en-casing the radio chassis in copper shielding would then definitely keep the oscillator signal inside WITHOUT blocking the signal on the air. That's why you have an antenna.

        If it was so easy to tell what radio frequency one was listening to, what would I (as a member of the US Navy) do? The enemy would know what frequencies we were listening to. That would get them one step closer to breaking our encryption and listening to our messages.

        Next time do a little research before posting.
  • Gotta love sacramento. Next thing you know they'll be watching us with cameras inside our tv's. Double-plus ungood, indeed.
  • by c0dedude ( 587568 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @09:17PM (#4747324)
    Wait a second. This could be a good thing. This is companies actually using advanced, high-tech devices to affect the consumer and give a more relevent expeirence. I mean, integration of higher and higher technology into daily life is one of the goals right, as it'll increase the demand for cheaper and better versions of technology. Discounting the 1984-Orwelliean aspect of this, this could actually be a positive phenomenon, ushering in new advances in advertising that could carry over to security or everyday automation of various tasks.
    • I have no idea what you just said. Can you rephrase that with smaller words and less run-on sentences? I think you just said, "Hey, this is cool" using 250 words, but I'm not sure.
    • by dubl-u ( 51156 ) <2523987012@potaG ... minus herbivore> on Sunday November 24, 2002 @10:35PM (#4747865)
      Integration of higher and higher technology into daily life isn't one of my goals, bucko. Making each day better than the one before is, of course, and sometimes technology helps that. But the mere technology for its own sake doesn't improve anything, or the people in server rooms would be the happiest motherfuckers on the planet.

      This goes double for advertising technology. The point of a billboard is to make you think about something other than what you're thinking about when you're near it. Improving the ability of people with money to distract me from my life might benefit somebody, but it sure as hell isn't me.
  • MMM... the sensationalism of those head lines. I must say they really aren't anything like the ones in Minority report which didn't change content to suit the user, they gave each person and idividualized sales pitch. Please dont mod me down, thats just an observation. Second... can one really determine from someones listening habits what they are into shopping for. I listen to NPR and punk rock... I have trouble stereotyping both of those to a similiar set of products. I mean really, someones internet usage shows what they are interested in, their radio only know their music preference. Third, the distraction factor is mentioned in the article but I don't think enought weight is geven to it. In Atlanta, where I am from we had one of those electronic billboards that got a court order to only have slowly changing adverts because it was to distractung. If one of these got that sort of court order it would turn into a cool radio scanning static billboard that hemmoraged money.
    • can one really determine from someones listening habits what they are into shopping for. I listen to NPR and punk rock... I have trouble stereotyping both of those to a similiar set of products. I mean really, someones internet usage shows what they are interested in, their radio only know their music preference.

      Advertising agencies which selectively advertise on certain stations based on listener demographics would tend to disagree with you here. Sure, it's not an exact science, but every bit of information about a person helps fine-tune their demographic a little more and produce better ad targeting. NPR and punk rock, combined, tell a lot about you as a consumer, really -- from these two facts, we can glean some pretty good probabilities about your age and political leanings, for example.

  • How does this work? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mcc ( 14761 ) <> on Sunday November 24, 2002 @09:21PM (#4747346) Homepage
    Hrm. The article describes what the billboards do, but they completely avoid the question of how these mystical "sensors" work. I thought I understood how a radio reciever works, but I don't understand how you could remotely determine the location of a radio *reciever*, much less *what* frequency said reciever is (um) recieving.

    I'm thinking of cases in totalitarian governments during the last 100 years where people huddled around banned radios trying to get the BBC, or of the case of the BBC roaming around trying to find people who have working televisions but don't pay their television tax. Could sensors like this be used by govt.s to determine from outside a house whether there was a functioning radio/television reciever? Could similar tech be used to locate illegal cell/police scanners or radar detectors (in areas where such things are illegal)?
    Would it be possible for me to build such a scanner and then legally walk around seeing what passing cars are listening to and what people are watching on tv, just out of curiousity?

    Is there a physics major in the house?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      >Is there a physics major in the house?

      How about an electrical engineer?

      This works because nearly all receivers use the superheterodyne principle. The receiver converts the incoming signals to another frequency where most of the amplification and filtering is performed. To do this conversion there is an oscillator, called the local oscillator, in the receiver and this is what can be detected by the billboards. In AM radios the local oscillator is 455 kHz higher in frequency than the station the radio is tuned to and you can hear it by putting two radios very close to each other, tuning one to a station near the high end of the AM band, then tuning the other radio to 455 kHz below that station's frequency so that you hear a tone.

      The same thing can be done with FM radio, TV and most other receivers. The reason it works is that all receivers are built using the same basic design so the difference between the local oscillator and station is known.
    • I can't tell you exactly how this thing is supposed to work (the atricle doesn't have enough information) but I can give you some ideas:

      Expample one:
      Radar detector detectors. These work by detection the frequency emitted by the local oscillator inside certain radar dectectors. The workaround wich followed was for radar detector manufacturers to simple change their LO frequencies.

      Example two:
      Store anti-shoplifting mechanisms. Those little tags that they put on just about everything these days are actually small electric circuits tuned to resonate at a specfic radio frequency. when you walk though the entrance/exit of the store, you walk between at a transmitter and a receiver. The tx/rx transmits at two radio frequencies. One is the frequency of the tags and one isn't. When a person walks through the gate, the amplitude of both frequencies at the reciever drops. If a tag passes through the gate, the one frequency is going to drop in amplitude more than the other, because of the resonance of the tag. Shoplifter nailed.
      Something similar to either one of these methods might be usable, but I can't tell you which one as the article doesn't give this type of information.
    • by Istealmymusic ( 573079 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @09:41PM (#4747503) Homepage Journal
      Okay, time for a clue. As I'm sure you know, your radio antenna receives all wavelengths simultaneously. The receiver has to filter out all but your tuned-in frequency. To do this, a so-called resistor-capacitor (the cap being your tuning knob) "RC tank circuit" is utilized to provide an oscillation to beat against the mish-mash of the received environmental waves. Local oscillators of this kind are powered by a solid-state Gunn oscillator [] in a Phase-Locked Loop [] (PLL).

      The output is fed through a low-power Schottkey diode [] to clamp the waveform and lock onto the desired frequency. I'm sure you can tell what I'm getting at: in order to receive frequency RF, one must generate frequency IF [] via local oscillations (LO), and IF directly corresponds to RF. Stephen Wolfram points out [] the relationship V[IF] = V[RF] + V[LO] for increasing and V[IF] = V[RF] - V[LO] for decreasing. Armed with this formula and decent knowledge of the radio's tank circuit, it is trivial to pick up the LO and IF frequencies your car radio transmits, albiet inadvertedly, and customize the billboard contents accordingly. Quite simple really.

      • by Anonymous Coward
        This explanation is really messed up. RC tank circuits don't exist but LC (inductor and capacitor) tank circuits, or resonant circuits, do. Gunn diodes are a good component for building a microwave local oscillator; phase locked loops are a system for building a stable local oscillator. Finally, schottky diodes don't "clamp" the waveform but they are often a good choice for use in a mixer.

        Why don't you go to an explantion of superheterodyne receivers [] and learn how they really work?
      • by lommer ( 566164 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @10:39PM (#4747891)
        Methinks that there could be good times had by people with a clue about radios.

        Don't you think it would be amusing (for a while) to go out with your own transmitter and transmit false LO and IF signals, causing the billboards to think that there was suddenly an enourmous surge of traffic listening to country music? It shouldn't be too difficult to figure out the appropriate LO and IF frequencies to emulate someone listening to a local station, and it would be interesting to see how the advertising companies target markets according to their music tastes. For example, what do they think that people who listen to the opera will buy?

        As well, I would be interested to see how the billboard company would respond to this (not to mention I would like to see all of their data infused with "anomalies"). I'm guessing they would try to sue your ass off by claiming that you were "stealing real customers" from them, but how well would that hold up in court?
  • by shivianzealot ( 621339 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @09:22PM (#4747356)
    I only listen to NPR, what are they going to sell me? A platter of dead tree? Hah!
  • The PERV in front of you is listening to 'LOVE LINES'!

    Paid for by:
    The Moral Majority
  • What happens if I'm listening to non-terrestrial radio (XM, Sirrus) or listening to a CD, like say, the new System of a Down CD (then they'd know how much I hate ads and corporate america). I still think billboards that have video are too much of a distraction. In todays world of abstracted liability, is it possible that I can sue this company if someone is distracted by their billboard and hits me?
    • Just radio.

      As for liability, billboards cannot "change" (article's word) more than once every four seconds. I don't know if this applies to just the advertisement (i.e. you can change what you're advertising for more than once every four seconds) or the image displayed. In the latter case, the best "video" you'll get is 1/4 fps...
  • by ActiveSX ( 301342 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @09:24PM (#4747379) Homepage
    ...for a different reason. I've driven by the one that went up in 1999 a few times, and every time I wonder "How schweet would it be to play Quake 3 on that?"
  • Not only does this invade my privacy, but it broadcasts information from which my income, age, etc. can be derived to everyone AROUND me!
    • No, all it does is show information from which people can determine what perhaps 30% of the people around them are (they can detect 60% of what people listen to, and caters to the majority. That assumes there are two stations. With more, you could have a plurality in which case 30% could drop to 10 or 15%.
  • Soon, this sign along the Capital City Freeway will be able to change its message based on what radio stations motorists have tuned in.

    Does that mean if someone is tuned into Rush Limbaugh or Howard Stern the billboard advertises the nearest place they can pick up some taste/informed-opinions?
  • At one time... (Score:3, Informative)

    by djupedal ( 584558 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @09:31PM (#4747427)
    ...Sac-o-tomato was a hotbed for consumer testing. We used to get all the new softdrink flavors and designer cookies, chips, etc. before many other regions around the U.S. Remember, as go California, so (eventually) goes the rest of the U.S. Nothing to brag about, however.
    • Yeah, milwaukee is allways getting new products too. McDonalds brats, pepsi blue, mt dew code red... I dunno, sometimes it irks me to be a test bed.
  • Jesus.

    WTF is it with advertising?

    Is there ANYWHERE I can go, where I'm not going to be subject to obnoxious marketing?

    I wish they'd spend their time, energy, and money on making advertising less intrusive and less obnoxious. Then I may actually pay attention to something I read.

    If this keeps up, everywhere we go it's going to be like a trade show, where all the advertisers are just trying to make the most noise and flash the most lights to grab your attention away from the other guy.
  • by MoThugz ( 560556 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @09:35PM (#4747462) Homepage
    Please give your opinions on what you think the billboard will display when...

    1) The car stereo is tuned in onto (eg. freq in MHz) 99.5FM while at the back seat, another person is listening to 110.5 FM.

    2) The person has a TV installed instead of a radio.

    3) A bus which has no radio passes by, but the passengers are listening to at least 10 different radio stations via mobile radios.

    4) A police car passes by.

    I got a few more possible situations, but these are the more interesting ones
  • by tgrotvedt ( 542393 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @09:36PM (#4747466) Journal
    ...MS has introduced Clippy on billboards that detects what you are doing:

    "Hi! It looks like you're using your PDA, would you like some help?"

    "Hi! It looks like you're trying to listen to the radio, would you like

    a. A step-by-step guide on listening to your radio.

    b. A radio tutorial.

    c. Continue using the radio.

    And voila, radio dropouts every few minutes on all highways!

    (sorry if that last post was empty ... so used to using Enter to tab between fields, which I know is really bad ... and unfortunately Submit is the default button)

    Anyways .. for those of you who drive along Route 80 (aka Capital City Freeway) near Sacramento at night you already love the Ford billboard. It is a full size billboard with active lighting. They choose the advertisements so poorly as to cause drastic color changes. Not so bad, but for the fact that it is immediately in front of you on a left hand turn, compound with the fact that it is brighter than the brake lights on the car in front of you. It seems to be less "flashy" of late ... but it still sucks.
  • by BrianH ( 13460 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @09:42PM (#4747505)
    I drive this section of the Cap City freeway quite often (used to be several times a day, now it's a few a week), and I couldn't tell you how many times I've inched past this spot at about 5MPH. So what happens to this thing when you've got six lanes of traffic inching by, and they're all listening to different things?

    Of course, my biggest concern is wrecks. This particular spot is already a popular wreck site, with the Garden highway exit, the CalExpo grounds (location of the yearly state fair and dozens of other big draws), the way too narrow for its capacity American River Bridge and curve, and one of the biggest shopping malls in the region all located off of this short stretch of overcrowded highway. The LAST thing this spot really needs is another visual distraction :\
    • by LostCluster ( 625375 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @10:35PM (#4747869)
      It's a majority rules kind of thing... the strongest LO frequency it finds is converted back to the station it corresponds to, and that is what determines which of the four ads show. If there's no way to make any sense of the signals, then the board just remains in place showing whatever ad the last group of cars that it could make sense of indicated.
    • RTFA! (Score:3, Informative)

      by rmohr02 ( 208447 )
      So what happens to this thing when you've got six lanes of traffic inching by, and they're all listening to different things?
      The billboard sees all the signals coming from radios and bases its ad on the most common signal.
  • Sure - the initial knee-jerk reaction is concern for privacy. But thankfully, Bob Garfield ("ad critic for the trade magazine Advertising Age") asures us:

    Garfield said the billboards are similar to Internet banner ads, which are sensitive to the user's Internet history.

    Yea. Thanks. I feel better now, Bob.

    Sure. He's got a point. Its not likely this particular bit of tech is all that intrusive. But he picked a horrible way of trying to make the point. Doubleclick was constantly criticized for their use of tracking cookies (and why I block them, but not neccissarily other ad banner sources). Then they were lambasted when, after several years of creating a database on tracking user traffic, went back on their word and announced they would use their newly purchased commercial mail database of US residents and attempt to merge the two; thus removing the promised annonymity.

    Perhapse Bob will pick his comparisons better next time around. Of course, he's in the advertising industry. "Critic" or not - he's probably pretty clueless on the topic of personal privacy.
  • It could be fun messing with these.
    Imagine 10 or so pocket radios modified so their speaker leads were clipped, all on and tuned to different stations, all wired into one power supply that you connect in your trunk.

    Let the billboards figure That one out!

    Then again, my experence with radio anymore is 2/3rds comercials and only 1/3rds music, and of that small percent, under 10% of the time is anything i care to listen to on, so to me this wouldnt be much of a problem.

    The billboard idea itself is sorta neat actually.
    However knowing that soon after they will have cameras to take pictures of your licence at the same time and match that to who you are using the wonders of databases, may make the jamming option more attractive.

    That is if you dont want them to know what you listen to.
  • Isn't this kind of a waste? I mean, unless they tinker the thing to be REALLY sensitive, and thus flickering between different ads constantly, won't the radio stations follow pretty much the same pattern every day?

    They could just take samples of the pattern a few days a year, and program the sign to meet that pattern for the rest of the year. I doubt the demographics really change that dramatically that suddenly that the board needs to change on-the-fly for every driver.

  • by GT_Alias ( 551463 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @09:48PM (#4747550)
    "Once we know what radio station you're listening to, then we know a lot about you," Langeland said. "We know how old you are, where you like to shop, your household income, whether you're married or single."

    OK, that chilled my blood. Where does this go next? Combine this with the Homeland Security, Office of Information Awareness, Asscroft, eDNA, and an administration bent on keeping an eye on each and every American citizen's buying/browsing habits...

    But that's another (1984) tangent, where they presume they can know everything about you based on a few habits. It still bothers me that I can be listening to a country radio station and suddenly I am pigeon-holed into a demographic that buys jacked-up pick up trucks, loves to hunt, and hangs out at pool halls with break-bar-stools-over-each-others-heads night each and every Friday. And don't doubt that Big Bro won't be wanting a piece of this action to browse for "suspicious activity."

    Of course all of this depends on them being able to connect such things as radio stations to individual consumers, but I have no doubts that they are trying their hardest to achieve just that. If you disagree, please re-read the above quotation.

    • by NeuroKoan ( 12458 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @10:26PM (#4747805) Homepage Journal
      Well, they can't really tell all of that information just from the radio station you listen to. But you are right, they can tell what demographic you are most likely a part of. Also, with more then one car on the road, the billboard will most likely interpolate between all cars on the road to make its display decision. This makes it necessary for the billboard to show ads that are very generic (but less generic then a static billboard).

      I guess what I am trying to say is that these ads are not going to be targeted at *you*, but the current status of the highway's demographic ( although I guess if you do see a comercial for "the best head-bashing-bar-stools-in-town" you might want to reconsider stopping at the next truck stop)

      Basically, in the morning commute, most people in Sacramento are probably listening to something easy like the Breeze 105.1 or perhaps an oldies station like Cool 101.9. The advertisers will probably want to put something up that is more targeted to the morning commuter (and will be able to determine this by the increase in friendly talk/music morning programs). Then, later in the day when local High Schools get out (but before the standard work day is done), there is in increase in 98 Rock and KWOD 106.5 (or even 102.5 or 103.3) and they can target a younger demographic. In actuality, this is not too much different then advertising on tv. There are lots of car comercials between 5 and 9. Between 11 and 2 there is an increase for accident attorneys and ITT Tech. 2-5 is filled up with toy comercials. etc...

      As for suspicious activity, how many people really listen to pirate radio stations while driving on the highway? I would imagine that you would have to stay pretty stationary to receive such a weak signal.

      Hell, who listens to the radio anymore anyways? Now, if they could peek into your cd player, I'd be a little more worried.
  • "I'd be far more concerned about the distraction issue," Garfield said. "Billboards that are too visually enticing can be very dangerous."
    Surely it should be illegal to purposely attempt to draw a driver's eye away from the road. Where are the studies showing a higher incidence of accidents around "effective" road-side advertising?
  • Do we really need billboards that change on there own to add to the distractions on the road? Though I guess this could make for some new on-the-road games
  • > "Soon, this sign along the Capital City Freeway
    > will be able to change its message based on what
    > radio stations motorists have tuned in."

    Or based on what some hacker equipted with a simple home-made transmitter wants it to think motorists have tuned in.
  • not all that hard to jam, obviously, with the right IF and the appropriate randomness... just don't get busted
  • Radio (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Shamashmuddamiq ( 588220 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @10:07PM (#4747676)
    For example, many people who listen to country music are interested in pick-up trucks and sport-utility vehicles.

    From my observations, I find that a lot of ads are not geared toward anything other than which groups of people are most impressionable. That is, they often don't run commercials for those products that are often bought only by people who aren't so susceptible to marketing practices. In the area where I live, there are just as many Mercedes as there are SUVs or Mazdas, but SUV and Mazda commercials run non-stop on TV. I never see commercials for Mercedes, which ties in comfortably with my theory that people who buy Mercedes are not likely to change their opinions based on daft marketing practices.

    In addition to that, it's probably a well-researched fact that people who listen to certain radio stations are much more impressionable than those that listen to other stations, or to those who don't listen to radio at all. If you have just as many people driving by the billboard with classical music playing as there are top-40 tuners, you'll probably see lots of Noxzema ads on that billboard, simply because it's much easier to sell something to someone who listens to Britney Spears.

    These are mostly just ramblings, but before I'm modded down, I just want to make the point that this is probably a good marketing move. It's easy to figure out which groups of people are most susceptible to advertising, and it's easy to figure out what they're susceptible to. But it may be harder to figure out what to put on a billboard based on that information. Now they have the answer.

  • Deflector (Score:3, Funny)

    by whereiswaldo ( 459052 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @10:12PM (#4747709) Journal
    Where can I buy a tinfoil hat [] for my car?

    (hmm... had no idea Tux was paranoid too!) []
  • Death metal (Score:3, Funny)

    by Cheese Cracker ( 615402 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @10:20PM (#4747761)
    A guy who listens to death metal would get a funeral home ad...
  • Two way street? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hklingon ( 109185 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @10:35PM (#4747862) Homepage
    Lets think for a moment.. My radio emits RF leftovers. "They" can pick up that information, process it, and then market to me based on that knowledge for money. Thank goodness. I can now passively sniff WiFi all day long. Or is this not a two way street?

    My CRT emits RF. What happens when they can pick that up? Think thats far off?? Okay, what about WiFi? Can I write a program to sniff the 30-some odd WiFi hotspots in my neighborhood.. and based on their physical location and the data I gather, market too them? Why or why not?? ...
    Think the analogy doesn't apply? What about the sattelite internet that uses sattelite downlink and landline uplink.. that is broadcasting to all of north america.. more than any single radio station.. This could set a dangerous precedent, no?
    • Re:Two way street? (Score:3, Informative)

      by EmagGeek ( 574360 )
      The government goes to great lengths to shield computers they use. The CIA has equipment that can indeed snoop what's being displayed on your monitor, and also pick up your keystrokes from emissions from your keyboard cable. None of it is rocket science. It's all based on the simple principle that a current on the surface of a wire has a very predictable radiated field.

      They are able to tell what radio station you're listening to by picking up local oscillator to RF leakage in the mixer stage of your receiver. A radio receiver has a variable local oscillator that is mixed with the incoming RF. That LO is mixed with the RF to produce a signal at both the sum and difference of the LO and RF. The sum is discarded (filtered) and the difference continues down through an IF filter (at 455kHz). Depending on the frequency of the LO, a certain station will end up at 455kHz in the IF stage.

      In any mixer, there is leakage from the LO input to both the RF and the IF ports (this is, incidentally, how cops can tell you have a radar detector, they listen for the LO frequency leaking out to the antenna port). So, the billboard has a receiver that can tell what your local oscillator is tuned to and decide what to display based on that.

      In a field of 100 cars, the billboard receives the most spectral power on the LO frequency that most of the cars are tuned to (since it all simply adds), so the billboard can also know which radio station most of the cars in the field of view are tuned to, and make a decision based on that.

  • by Skapare ( 16644 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @10:44PM (#4747926) Homepage

    Originally the idea was to use a computer controlled multi polarized liquid crystal windshield system to align the crystals so that they have opposing polarity in each layer so as to block direct sunlight. Don't you just hate it when driving east in the morning or west in the afternoon and have to put up with sunlight in your eyes when it is below the visor level? Do you try to align your head so the sun is behind the rear view mirror? Well this idea would block the sun by tracking the direction it is at.

    So I was thinking. Why not add some more smarts to the computer software and have it scan the field of view looking for tell-tale billboard signs, and automatically block them out, too?

    Well, I can dream, anyway.

  • by Andrewkov ( 140579 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @11:24PM (#4748158)
    Damn, and I thought the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show jumbo-tron billboard on the Gardner Expressway in Toronto was distracting! Oh, wait a sec, these new billboards won't beat that. ;-)
  • Why (Score:5, Funny)

    by 3ryon ( 415000 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @11:28PM (#4748189)
    Because, as everyone knows, driving down the highway without reading all the billboards is stealing.
  • It's hype. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kitzilla ( 266382 ) <.paperfrog. .at.> on Monday November 25, 2002 @12:07AM (#4748434) Homepage Journal
    Methinks the billboard company is gilding the lily a bit. Tools to forecast driver consumer preferences already exist, and they're no less accurate than electronically peeking at your radio dial.

    Animated boards are expensive. That means the outdoor company will only be putting them in high-traffic locations.

    Hundreds of cars might pass the board in a one-minute period. It takes about four seconds to absorb a well-contructed outdoor display. Obviously, the data isn't going to be targeted at individual motorists. It'll be an average of traffic flow over some given period of time.

    That makes the radio tuner data much less useful. All the billboards will be doing is determining localized listening preference. I gotta tell ya: it ain't gonna be much different than the Arbitron radio ratings already available to the industry.

    Properly programmed radio stations have very predicatable listener compositions. Take a Classic Rock station, for instance: the typical listener will be between 35 and 49 years of age. He is 70% likely to be male. He is about 45% likely to be married.

    You can take this further, computing the possibility he has kids and his approximate ages. More importantly, you can interpolate this data against retail databases which qualify the likely incomes and buying habits of people in these demographic cells. There are plenty of industry tools which do this, such as Scarborough Research's databases.

    That's how the billboard companies will pitch their clients. They'll merge the radio listening data against something like a Scarborough study and--boom--we can see that a certain number of drivers during a given hour will make a car purchase within the next month. The billboard chooses a Chevy ad. If you know where most of the traffic is heading, you can even tag it with dealer info. Awesome.

    But the billboard company really doesn't need the gee-whiz realtime radio snooping. It's a gimmick. Their sellers can already work out the data with existing desktop tools.

    Imagine that: hype from advertising execs. Who would have figured?

    • Re:It's hype. (Score:3, Insightful)

      What this allows them to do is change the targetted demographic in realtime. They're allowed to change it as often as every four seconds. If the majority of the sample (60% of passing motorists, according to the article) are listening to a classic rock station, as you suggested, the appropriate ad may be for an automobile. On the other hand, if it's ten at night and the majority of motorists are listening to pop music, then the billboard can be changed to advertise Old Navy or Noxema. The gimmick here is not that the sign accurately targets any particular demographic. The gimmick is that a single sign may accurately target the most prevalent demographic currently looking.
  • by vanyel ( 28049 ) on Monday November 25, 2002 @03:18PM (#4752975) Journal
    So does that mean the billboard will go out when I drive by listening to CDs?

It's fabulous! We haven't seen anything like it in the last half an hour! -- Macy's