Yahoo has an idea for 'smart' billboard that monitors people with a camera and microphone

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Yahoo may be playing with the idea of one day scanning people on the street or in their cars through a camera and mic-equipped “smart” billboard.

According to patent applications disclosed on Thursday, first discovered by The Mercury News’ Ethan Baron, Yahoo sees a future where billboards collect audience data in real-time through a camera and a mic in order to display better-targeted ads.

The goal is to make billboards “smarter” and serve ads that match the interest of a broader group of people nearby.

“Instead of relying on ‘personalisation’ like online advertising, the techniques described herein rely on ‘grouplization’ i.e. selection of advertising content based on an aggregate representation of the target audience that is derived, at least in part, from real-time information,” the patent document said.

It says image recognition and sound capturing techniques could collect data that identify the demographic characteristics or keywords spoken by the group to help each billboard serve up better ads. It’s unclear how it will deal with potential privacy issues, but it is an intriguing idea that could bring some new innovations to a decades-old business model.

Here’s a diagram from the patent document that illustrates the way it would work:

And how the whole process would work:

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