The End of Billboards

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Augmented reality, the process of overlaying digital information atop real life vision, seems inevitable to me given the recent direction and pace of technology – the proliferation of smartphones, location-based services, 3D TVs, etc.

Actually, it’s already here. Layar (fig. 1) is a crazy augmented reality browser, available on Android and iPhone, that uses a phone’s camera and superimposes dynamic, sortable content in real time.  Another example comes from the Museum of London, which launched a free iPhone app (fig. 2) that blankets its historical art and photography library atop your view.

[fig. 1: Layar, via Mobile Crunch]

[fig. 2: Museum of London app, via LikeCool]

I recently started to think about how this would play out for driving. I don’t think it’s that far off before GPS augmentation becomes a feature in cars, with special touchscreen windshields capable of displaying semi-transparent turn-by-turn directions on top of the road as you drive.

It’s not hard to imagine what comes next: superimposed ads, like a McDonald’s logo that grows progressively larger as you approach the store. One might even be able to tap out an order a mile in advance to speed up the drive-thru process.

It may sound scary, but I tend to be one to look for the upside of these things. In this case, I feel this could at long last mark the death of the billboard. With ads streaming directly into cars, there would presumably no longer be a need to have those clunky eyesores blocking the view across cities and along interstates. We could at last tear those suckers down.

But at the end of the day we’ll just be trading a physical eyesore for a virtual one. My jury is still deliberating over whether or not that is any better.  What do you think? Is it worth it to rid skylines of physical billboards, or will it make no difference once the ads are permanently beamed into our line of sight?

Artist Keiichi Matsuda provides an awesome, but dreary picture of what this future might look like, taken to its logical extreme:

[Augmented (hyper)Reality: Domestic Robocop from Keiichi Matsuda on Vimeo]

Cool or scary?

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Posted on June 2nd 2010 in ideas, news, OrgWatch

Are we there yet?

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An interesting discussion emerged recently after Ryan Avent argued that regulatory hurdles are preventing any innovation in the automobile sector.  Since carmakers face strict safety requirements, among many other constraints, they are effectively pigeonholed into creating cars of a certain size and weight.  Avent proposed creating the space for innovation by making separate lanes free from traditional car traffic, thus freeing carmakers of some of the traditional regulatory constraints and opening the door to genuine innovation, such as smaller, lighter single-passenger vehicles.

James Joyner was quick to dismantle Avent’s imaginary cars on practical grounds.  Megan McArdle reaffirmed that safety concerns necessitate bigger, stronger and thus heavier cars and also reminded us that most Americans need storage space for groceries and such.  One of her readers pointed to the Smart Car as experimental evidence of these arguments.

Most of Avent’s critics made valid points, but I believe his ideas were mostly appropriate for urban users that have become adept at dealing with space constraints, and it rings true to me that creating the space is a crucial element.  In the same way that bike lanes bring more bikers out on the road, a safer space could bring all kinds of interesting transport devices out in the open.  Readers following the discussion at The Daily Dish pointed to the Myers Motors NmG and to Segway’s P.U.M.A as examples of what we can expect to see.

Notwithstanding all the holes and hypotheticals, it actually seems to me that the industry is taking significant steps in the right direction on fuel-efficiency.  Consider some recent news.

First came the enormously symbolic death of the Hummer, after its proposed sale to a Chinese car company fell through.  Then, Porsche unveiled its 918 Spyder Hybrid, capable of 198 mph top speeds while getting an impressive 78 miles per gallon.  Mercedez Benz officially entered the luxury hybrid market.  And Volkswagen announced it wants to be the market leader in electric vehicle sales.

In his final post on automobiles, Avent imagined the day when small innovative vehicles might retail at around $2,000-$3,000.   India’s Tata Motors, which rocked the auto-world in 2006 with its $2,000 Nano, may have brought that day closer with the release of an electric version, and is meanwhile planning on entering the U.S. market.

Abandoning wasteful excess.  Hybrid high-powered sports and luxury vehicles.  Making it affordable.  I don’t know, I may be optimistic, but it feels like we are reaching a critical point on the road to mass adoption of energy efficient vehicles.

For more, check out GOOD’s 15 most energy efficient vehicles of 2010

Posted on March 10th 2010 in news
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