Brave New World?

I live and work in the burbs but I go into London every week. I usually hang out where my friends live. But from time to time work takes me to the square mile. The square mile is where most of the financial services industry is based in London. On days where I find myself in that neighborhood I feel like a country bumpkin. You see I tend to walk just a nudge slower than the masses – I’m used to London style speed walking but during these visits I walk a beat slower because I find myself distracted … drinking in the sights and sounds of the big smoke.

A couple of weeks ago I attended a meeting in the city. As I got out of the St Pauls tube station my eyes spied something shiny – a recycling bin with a large LED display flashing advertising. It stopped me in my tracks and I stood there gawping for a few seconds. Before I knew it I was washed away in the tidal wave of people trying to get to work.  I really wanted to go back and take a picture but it felt a bit like salmon swimming upstream so I made a mental note to take a picture on my way home. And in case you’re wondering I never did take that picture. I literally had 10 minutes to make the last direct train back to Hampton Court and about 15 minutes of walking. I did make the train but had to jog most of the way… in high heels dodging around pedestrians … and for the record I don’t recommend jogging in heels.

My curiosity was really piqued by these bins. A quick Google search turned up lots of information about these recycling bins and the company behind them. What initially caught my eyes was the vibrant colors from the LED screens. LEDs are fairly eco-friendly and are replacing various forms of lighting. We’ve talked about the thermal challenges faced by LED designers many times and in case you’d like a refresher on all things thermal as it relates to LEDs please follow this link. So it was really cool to see an unexpected application for the technology.

Anyway, these guys seem to offer more than just an electronic billboard. Recently they did a research project where they tracked the demographics of pedestrians walking by (phone manufacturer, time of day, route taken, etc). Learning that their equipment is capable of more than just serving ads put my imagination in overdrive…

I don’t know if you saw Antitrust, the Tim Robbins movie from 2001. In the movie Tim Robbins’ character was an uber rich guy who had digital picture displays dotted around his house.  These displays were programmed to show artwork preferred by visitors entering the house … a dynamic museum tuned to the preferences of the guests. I know this technology exists because I remember reading that Bill Gates had implemented it in one of his houses a few years ago.

So if you put the two together, you end up with a rather interesting idea. Is it too far-fetched to think that in the not too distant future the likes of this company can use their tech to serve ads that are specific to the person walking by? Let’s say the bin “sniffs” that I have a brand x phone. A smartphone manufacturer has a campaign to replace competitive handsets. So as I walk by I get served an ad that says “Switch your x-phone to the iFab3000 and get £100 cash back”.

As a marketing person this is nirvana to me – I can tailor my ads to people walking by!

As a skittish consumer it can be a bit disturbing because I may be a Sci Fi fan with a penchant for all things Star Trek. After the equipment “sniffs” my browsing history, I get served an ad that says “Star Fleet Uniforms now on Sale”. Due to the population density of London chances are I wouldn’t be the only one seeing the ad. So the mental game begins as everyone walking by tries to figure out who is the closet Trekkie among them – not that there’s anything wrong with it. Just saying…

I mentioned this week’s blog posting to my friends and was rewarded with a few rather loud eye-rolls in response. Not being one to shy away from a controversial topic I decided to go public with it. After all, we have a lot of rather neat technology out there created by some very smart engineers so can this really be that far-fetched in our brave new world? What do you think?
Until next time,

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Posted July 17th, 2013, by

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2 comments on this post | ↓ Add Your Own

Commented on July 18, 2013 at 12:30 am
By Chris Hill

I don’t think this is at all far-fetched. ARM already have the ambition to include small, cheap, self-sufficient processors in a whole range of everyday items (paint!?). See:

So imagine, you could be walking down the road and as you pass the intelligent recycling bin it interrogates all the tags in your clothes, assesses how your sartorial choices could be better optimized, then offers some helpful suggestions. Personally, if I was programming the bin, I would give it a range of humorous responses such as “Did you get dressed in the dark today?” and “Your mum dresses you funny”. The potential is limited only by one’s imagination!

Commented on July 18, 2013 at 2:10 am
By Nazita Saye

Hey Chris, thanks for sharing the ARM link – very interesting. I never considered my Fitbit as a component of this brave new world. As to your choice of bin commentary I think that would be 10 kinds of awesome. It would definitely make a dreary commute into London more entertaining (maybe not for the addressee but surely everyone around him/her). The Fitbit programmers obviously belong to the SoC (not System of Chips but School of Chris) because from time to time I get really entertaining messages such as Get Moving Nazita on days when I don’t wear my Fitbit or on my active days something along the lines of You Rock Nazita which as we all know is true :-) Love that bit of tech!

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