Ads get on speaking terms with the public

Advertising posters and billboards could soon be attracting the attention of potential customers by talking to people. Engineers at Scottish industrial design consultancy Harris Hynd have developed a device that can be clipped to the back of poster boards and display panels, allowing them to ‘speak’ to passers-by.

An infrared sensor detects when a person is walking past and activates an MP3 player containing an audio message about the product, stored on a memory card. ‘The technology is designed to turn people’s heads,’ said Norman Harris, director of Harris Hynd. Other possible uses include information panels at National Trust sites, and audio timetables for the visually impaired at bus stops.

The device currently features the NXT SurfaceSound speaker system, which uses small motors known as ‘exciters’ to drive vibrations over the rigid surface of the display, creating resonance dense enough for quality sound. But the company is hoping to develop its own, more robust flat-panel speaker, able to withstand being thrown around at exhibitions and other public events.

The National Trust has expressed an interest in the device, which could be used to produce interactive panels to allow its visitors greater access to information, said Harris. ‘The panel could also contain a keypad, which, when touched at different points, would generate different messages.’

The system contains no speaker grills, so it is not vulnerable to weather damage when used outdoors. In addition to posters and display panels, it can be used on metal, glass and tabletops, and the company is also developing a device that will work on tiles to turn ceilings into interactive speakers.

Alan James, chief executive of the Outdoor Advertising Association, said the device would need to be time sensitive to avoid disturbing local residents. ‘It would have to be of sufficient volume to be heard, but you cannot have it going off at 4am. It would all depend on the delivery of the scheme, but it could be a show-stopper.’

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