Recently there’s been some buzz in the news that Pepsi, or more accurately the company’s Russian division, had partnered with a startup by the name of StartRocket to experiment with the idea of putting “billboards” in space. After overwhelmingly negative response to the idea on social media, Pepsi’s official line is that the StartRocket experiment was a one-time partnership, and that the company has no plans to push ahead with a space advertising program “at this time”.
Had this been the first time a worldwide conglomerate like Pepsi had turned their eyes up into the black and saw dollar signs, you might think that humanity’s brief flirtation with space-bound advertisements was nothing but a social media stunt. But the truth of the matter is that companies such as Coca-Cola and Pizza Hut have been trying to get their products off terra firma since the 1980’s. This isn’t even Pepsi’s first attempt, despite what their PR department might want you to believe right about now.
So why haven’t we seen advertisers putting their money into space advertising schemes? Well, we have, actually. They just haven’t been terribly effective and the average person likely has no recollection of them. We’re seeing considerable excitement about spaceflight in the new media right now with billionaires like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos battling to see who can build the most outlandish rockets, but historically, you’d do better getting a 10 second spot during the Super Bowl than plastering your logo on the side of a weather satellite.
In honor of Pepsi’s recent blunder, let’s take a look at some of the standout attempts to conquer advertising’s true true final frontier from the last few decades.
Coca-Cola has updated their sign in Times Square, and this one has a mesmerizing 3D aspect to it, giving the spooky feeling you get from watching buildings curl up into the sky in the movie, Inception. That 3D is created by breaking the sign up into a 68’x42′ matrix of 1760 LED screens that can be independently extended out toward the viewer and retracted again. Of course, we went hunting for implementation details.
On Coca-Cola’s webpage listing the partners involved in putting it together, Radius Displays is listed as responsible for sign design, fabrication, testing and installation support. Combing through their website was the first step. Sadly we found no detailed design documents or behind-the-scenes videos there. We did find one CAD drawing of a Moving Cube Module with a 28×28 matrix of LEDs. Assuming that’s accurate then overall there are 1,379,840 LEDs — try ordering that many off of eBay. EDIT: One behind-the-scenes video of the modules being tested was found and added below.
So the patent hunting came next, and that’s where we hit the jackpot. Read on to see the results and view the videos of the sign in action below.
The mailer turned out to be from the Arconic corporation – some sort of publication trying to sway a board of directors vote one way or the other. But far more interesting is the hardware inside. The device consisted of a 3″ LCD screen within folded cardboard, some buttons and a micro USB port. After the device let the smoke out when [Steve] attempted to charge it, the next step was naturally to perform a full teardown.
It was a simple job to identify the chips inside which still had their factory markings, and [Steve] found that it appeared to share its design with an Audi marketing material from 2014. It’s rather amazing that such technology is cheap enough for this sort of mass mailout, though [Steve] notes that it’s rather an imprudent move to post out a “fire hazard that needs to be specially recycled”.
Navid Gornall is a creative technologist at a London advertising agency, which means that he gets to play with cool toys and make movies. That also means that he spends his every working hour trying to explain tech to non-technical audiences. Which is why he was so clearly happy to give a talk to the audience of hardware nerds at the Hackaday Belgrade conference.
After a whirlwind pastiche of the projects he’s been working on for the last year and a half, with tantalizing views of delta printers, dancing-flame grills, and strange juxtapositions of heat sinks and food products, he got down to details. What followed was half tech show-and-tell, and half peering behind the curtain at the naked advertising industry. You can read our writeup of the highlights after the video below.
The web is abuzz with the news that the Facebook-owned Oculus Rift has buried in its terms of service a clause allowing the social media giant access to the “physical movements and dimensions” of its users. This is likely to be used for the purposes of directing advertising to those users and most importantly for the advertisers, measuring the degree of interaction between user and advert. It’s a dream come true for the advertising business, instead of relying on eye-tracking or other engagement studies on limited subsets of users they can take these metrics from their entire user base and hone their offering on an even more targeted basis for peak interaction to maximize their revenue.
Fortunately for us there is a choice even if our community doesn’t circumvent the data-slurping powers of their headsets; a rash of other virtual reality products are in the offing at the moment from Samsung, HTC, and Sony among others, and of course there is Google’s budget offering. Sadly though it is likely that privacy concerns will not touch the non-tech-savvy end-user, so competition alone will not stop the relentless desire from big business to get this close to you. Instead vigilance is the key, to spot such attempts when they make their way into the small print, and to shine a light on them even when the organisations in question would prefer that they remained incognito.
Oculus Rift development kit 2 image: By Ats Kurvet – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
Serious work went into this thing, and the results couldn’t be better. Check out the video after the break to see for yourself. The trick is to increase the surface area of the spools of thread. This is done by using the spool as a pulley which guides a 5.5 foot length of “threaded fabric”. Up close, the fabric looks as if it’s just wrapped around the wooden spool, but the extra length provides enough room for 36 different colors, each blending into the next in a gradient effect. Index the location of the fabric in each pixel system and you have a wide range of color options.
The piece was commissioned by clothing retailer Forever 21 and has even been given its own website. The display pulls Instagram photos with the #F21threadscreen hashtag and displays them. You can watch a live stream for the next week, and the dedicated site has a search feature to find a recording of your own photo by username.
[DoctorBeet] noticed the advertisements on the landing screen of his new LG smart television and started wondering about tracking. His curiosity got the better of him when he came across a promotional video aimed at advertisers that boasts about the information gathered from people who use these TVs. He decided to sniff the web traffic. If what he discovered is accurate, there is an invasive amount of data being collect by this hardware. To make matters worse, his testing showed that even if the user switches the “Collection of watching info” menu item to off it doesn’t stop the data from being phoned home.
The findings start off rather innocuous, with the channel name and a unique ID being transmitted every time you change the station. Based on when the server receives the packets a description of your schedule and preferred content can be put together. This appears to be sent as plain data without any type of encryption or obfuscation.
Things get a lot more interesting when he discovers that filenames from a USB drive connected to the television are being broadcast as well. The server address they’re being sent to is a dead link — which makes us think this is some type of debugging step that was left in the production firmware — but it is still a rather sizable blunder when it comes to personal privacy. If you have one of these televisions [DoctorBeet] has a preliminary list of URLs to block with your router in order to help safeguard your privacy.