Because being bombarded with roadside signage while taking a leisurely Sunday drive isn’t enough, Ford has patented a new system that uses a vehicle’s cameras to detect billboards and then pull them up on a car’s infotainment display as inescapable in-vehicle advertisements.
Billboards are an effective way to subliminally make a driver hungry for an approaching fast food restaurant, or convince them they need to pull off the road and visit a nearby outlet mall for some discount Reeboks. What billboards aren’t great at is providing detailed information like a phone number, an address, or a website, as even large signage often isn’t visible long enough for a driver or passenger to memorise important details. That’s the problem Ford is trying to solve with this new system it’s patenting — although the larger potential here is concerning.
Many vehicles now come standard with built-in cameras that are either used for autonomous driving features, security, or for providing a driver with a view outside the vehicle to make parking easier. What Ford wants to do is leverage those cameras to also keep an eye out for passing billboards, and then use image recognition to put a copy of the advertisement on a vehicle’s infotainment screens so it’s visible to the driver and passengers for longer. The system would also intelligently analyse the content of the billboard and generate hyperlinks, either for easily dialling a posted phone number, or for bringing up a company’s website to see additional information.
Ford could potentially even work with advertising agencies, or the companies responsible for billboards, so that upcoming advertisements would be provided ahead of time to train the system so it could better recognise what it’s seeing, and even provide customised URLs or additional content that loads as a result. You might be driving by a billboard hawking a Whopper, and the passengers in the vehicle could be given the option to watch a Burger King ad. The key words being “given the option,” because one day that might not be the case.
Similar to the cheaper version of Amazon’s Kindle e-reader that’s discounted thanks to ads appearing on the lockscreen, one day your family’s sedan might come with a hefty discount if you’re willing to endure random ads popping up the dashboard every time you pass a billboard. Or, if you look at it another way, if you want a Kindle without ads in the U.S., you have to cough up an extra $25, and that could very well one day be the case with cars. If you don’t want every passing billboard popping up on your dashboard screen, then maybe you’ll have to consider the upgraded “highway peace and quiet” package.