An interactive billboard on Interstate 88 near Eola Road in Aurora, Ill., touts the Chevy Malibu on April 14, 2016. The sign uses vehicle recognition technology to identify competing sedans and display ads aimed at their drivers. Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune/TNS

Although we probably won’t see this in Costa Rica for some time yet, in the U.S. smart digital billboards will be detecting the make, model and year of oncoming vehicles and project ads tailored to that motorist.

Just like targeted ads appearing on your computer after a search for a flight or a kitchen sing, roadside cameras will read license plates, and powerful computers will make snap judgments based on likely home address, age, race and income level to pitch products or services through the billboards.

A report by the Tribune News Service says, “Once ads flash up on roadside digital screens, the sales pitch may not stop. Any mobile phones in a passing vehicle may light up with a reinforcing message linked to the ad.”

The Tribune article says smart billboards are already here, throw in artificial intelligence and powerful computers, and the roadside experience is on the cusp of change.

In effect, these digital billboards will be actually staring at as we drive and like what is already happening on our computers, make judgments about who we are and how we might spend our money.

Old-style “dumb” billboards will be replaced by their smart progeny.

To make the billboards smart, companies like Synaps Labs, has been working hard at collecting millions of images, manually creating libraries of car makes and models. “Initially, it was labor intensive,” said Synaps co-founder and chief executive, Alex Pustov, adding that packed in the computer’s memory are some 2,000 different images of each of the 1,600 makes and models of cars.

“Most car companies want to advertise to seven- to 12-year-old cars. They don’t want to advertise to a 1- to 2-year-old car,” said Kevin Foreman, general manager of geoanalytics at INRIX, a Kirkland, Wash., company that gathers and sells real-time traffic information. “Ford spending money on you when you’ve just bought a new Ford is lousy. But me, I have a 12-year-old Ford. I’m a great candidate.”

Citing the creepy billboards of the 2002 movie Minority Report in which a protagonist finds signage addressed to him directly, industry experts are cautious to note the data harvesting is anonymous.

“It doesn’t have to know who you are. It needs to know what you are. It says I see phone ID 453ABCD. I happen to know that phone number is associated with a millennial Hispanic female, therefore send it this ad,” said Andrew R. Sriubas, chief commercial officer at OUTFRONT Media, one of the nation’s big three outdoor advertisers.

But, what impact will the smart billboards have on self-driving automobiles, which may turn drivers into passengers? The question then is whether those nondrivers will focus on screens inside vehicles or outside.

Some view autonomous vehicles as likely to be a boon to billboards, though it may be temporary. “For the next 10 years, I think the billboard or out-of-home industry is going to have a heyday. Drivers will be more hands-free,” Foreman said. “They’ll be able to phone Delta Airlines and book their flight right away when they see that flight to Hawaii for cheaper. … They can actually transact on the advertisement.”

But the newness will wear off. “People are going to say, ‘Hey I want to be productive for the next 45 minutes while I’m driving to work instead of noticing all the things I never noticed when I was so focused on the red light,'” Foreman added. “The train analogy, I think, is a good analogy. When you first ride the train, you look around and notice, but after a while, you start your laptop.”

Source: Tribune News Service