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Abstract - This paper describes an electronic billboard system called Interactive Wireless Electronic Billboard. This new type of electronic billboards is a data ...

Proceedings of the 2004 IEEE international Conference an Networking, Sensing E Control Taipei, Taiwan, Mwch 21-23, 2004

Interactive Wireless Electronic Billboard Te-Kai Liu

Yun-Wu Huang

JewYao Cbung

JBM T. J. Watson Research Center Yorktown Heights, NY 10598 [email protected]

IBM T.J. Watson Research Center Yorktown Heights, NY 10598

IBM T. J. Watson Research Center Yorktown Heights, NY 10598 [email protected]

[email protected]


Abstract This paper describes an electronic billboard system called Interactive Wireless Electronic Billboard This new type of electronic billboards is a data processing system equipped with a d i s p l q device and short-range wireless communication capabilip, such as Bluetooth. Potential use of the Interactive Wireless Electronic Billboard is in commercial product advertisement and transaction. In this application, the displq device displays product advertisements while data processing system uses wireless communication intelface to communicate with nearby mobile devices such as PDAs. Upon seeing an advertisement on a displqv device, a customer may initiate a request from his mobile device to start an interactive process with the electronic billboard system to receive more information, or to complete the transaction of purchasing the advertised product. In this paper, we present a high level design and proposed system architecture of the Interactive Wireless Electronic Billboard system.

Keywords: Electronic billboard, Bluetooth, advertisement, eCommerce, PDA, heterogeneous wireless networks.

1 Introduction Advertisement is a major business function for disseminating product information to the consumers or building product awareness among them. For an advertisement campaign to be effective, the information has to be delivered to the right people at the right time and the right place. One type of current advertisement media uses stationary billboards placed at strategic locations to deliver information to potential customers. These mechanical or electronic billboards can display visual information to draw customers’ attention, but they are unable to further interact with potential customers who are interested in the information being displayed. If, after viewing the information from a billboard, a potential customer wants to obtain more information or purchase the productdservices being advertised, typically the customer writes down or tries to memorize the information (e.g., the product name, a phone number or an URL) about the productdservices displayed on the billboard. Afterwards, this potential customer may complete the transaction of purchasing the products/services through a separate channel such as making a phone call, visiting the web site using a browser or going to a store. It is however quite possible that a customer interested in the productslservics while seeing the ads may neglect to take down the contact information, or do so incorrectiy, or simply forgot about it at a later time.

0-7803-8193-9/04/$17.00 02004 IEEE

In such a case, the provider of the advertised productdservices fails to close a business bansaction with this customer. Wide area wireless Internet services are routinely used for services such as stock quote, email and weather report. Due to the expensive air transmission charges and the limited battery life of many wireless devices, wireless users will likely be reluctant to accept advertisements pushed to them at their expense. Banner advertisements are a popular form of advertisement on the Internet nowadays. These advertisements provide a convenient way (basically one click) for users who are interested in the ads to interact with the advertisement source to get more information and possibly purchase the products and services. Banner advertisements, however, have drawbacks. First, this type of advertisement can only interact with customers who are browsing the web. Furthermore, these advertisements can he very intrusive for web users who do not want to see them because these banner advertisements take up computer window space as well as transmission bandwidth. Advertisement billboards on the other hand can be nonintrusive. They can be placed at strategic spots where potential customers are looking for things to buy (e.g., in the malls) or have time to kill (e.g., in the airport lounge). But the non-interactive nature of the traditional billboards lacks the ability to interact with potential customers to provide more information or to close the transaction on the spot. These billboards mostly become part of the ambience; they serve as a sub-conscious reminder rather than an active solicitor. In this paper we propose anew type of electronic billboards which is capable of performing interactive communication with potential customers in order to provide more product information and perform transaction of product purchase on the spot. We call this new system the Interactive Wireless Electronic Billboard or Interactive Billboard for short. The hteractive Billboard system is a data processing device equipped with a display function and a short-range wireless communication interface (e.g., Bluetooth [l]) to communicate with mobile devices (e.g., PalmPilot [6], mobile phones). While this proposed dectronic billboard displays product advertisements, it interacts with nearby client mobile devices through the wireless communication interface.


The customer, upon seeing an advertisement on display, may initiate a request from his mobile device to start an interactive communication process with this electronic billboard. Once the wireless communication protocol is established between this electronic billboard and the customer's handheld device, a predefined user-interface configuration and contents can be transmitted to the customer device. Operating on this specialized userinterface function, the customer may then query, select, transmit secured data (e.g., credit card information), rehieve information and complete transactions. The interactive process is similar to the Web browsing experience on a mobile device using wireless communication. In fact, the infrastructure of the proposed electronic billboard system can be implemented using the Web technology. The Interactive Billboard is not a standalone system but a component in a distributed data processing system that deploys numerous such billboards as gateways for interaction with customers in order for product information dissemination and transaction processing. In terms of Web technology, the proposed billboard can be viewed as highly specialized portal gateway providing data and services for specific products whose ads are on display. The backend of this billboard system can be similar to.tbe enterpriselevel multi-tiered middleware infrastructure deployed for Webbased e-commerce processing and Web Portal processing. The rest of the paper is organized as follows. Section 2 introduces a vision and four usage scenarios of the Interactive Wireless Electronic Billboard system In Section 3, we present an overview of physical and logical design of the Interactive Billboard system. We describe the architecture and functional blocks of this system in Section 4. The technologies for realizing the Interactive Billboard system are discussed in Section 5. Section 6 briefly reviews related work while Section 7 concludes this paper.

2 Vision and Scenarios 2.1 Vision

Most of the time, people may not be attracted to advertisements (ads) as much as they could be. However, there are times that people are more responsive to ads, for example, when people are riding a bushain, waiting at budtrain stops, waiting at theaters, walking in shopping malls, waiting at gas pumps, etc. In these situations, it is in the interest of both consumers and advertisers to have a non-intrusive way (e.g., an electronic billboard) to present consumers with some selected advertisements that are more likely to be accepted by consumers. In the event that a consumer is attracted by a particular ad displayed on an electronic billboard, it would be desirable if the consumer can get a copy of the ad by using his personal digital assistant (PDA), also known as handheld computing device. AAer the information is stored in a PDA, the consumer then has the freedom to decide when to act upon that ad. The

customer may even decide to purcbase the product right at the spot so he can pick up the good at a nearby store or have it delivered to someplace. How can the above scenario be 'made possible? In other words, how can a consumer receive information from the ad that interested them? With the growing maturity of pervasive computing technologies, we think it is possible for a billboard operator to deploy a local wireless network, using technologies such as Bluetooth 111, which covers the audience d a billboard. The wireless network will allow consumers using their PDAs to connect to the network and get the information they want. After a consumer gets the ad information he wants into his PDA, he has the option of performing transaction on the spot. This can be done if the billboard is connected to a backend e-commerce server. Alternatively, the PDA can connect to the ecommerce server with its own wireless connectivity through a local wireless LAN or acellular phone. The ads presented to consumers can be made very selective by taking into account factors such as location of the billboard, time of day, weekdaydweekends, temperature of the environment, etc. It can be made even more adaptive if the billboard operator provides a way for advertisers to make last-minute announcements such as limited-time special lunch offer at a local restaurant when the local restaurant's manager finds that his restaurant is underutilized. In this case, consumers are encouraged to save the special offer into their PDA and visit the restaurant being advertised. The above depicted infiashuctnre includes a distributed billboard operation system which remotely deploys a number of electronic billboards and the associated local wireless networks at selected locations. The contents offered by the infrastructure can be enriched by incorporating other value-added services such as local weather, local yellow pages, directions and maps, etc. These value-added services can be advertised by the billboard display as well. In fact, one way to look at the infrastructure is to think of billboards as the access points to the contents hosted by the billboard operation system In other words, billboards display multimedia ads and invite the audience to use their PDA to connect through local wireless networks to have access to more information on promotions, special events, and other value-added services. Being deployed at strategic locations, such billboards are expected to be able to adapt to the dynamic needs of its audience and help generate new transactions and revenues for the billboard operator and advertisers. In order to better familiarize the reader with the functionality envisioned, a set of user scenarios are presented below. The scenarios center around a fictitious consumer named Andre, who commutes to work by trains and occasionally travels on business. During weekends, Andre has a hobby of seeing movies in cinemas and shopping in malls.


2.2 Purchases on the Spot Scenario

Andre went to a shopping mall on a weekend to shop for the birthday gift for his mother. As he entered the shopping mall, he saw on a billboard that a brand name cosmetics gift set is on sale at Macy’s department store. He instantly made a decision to buy the gift set for his mother. He knew that a special sale like this would definitely crowd the counter in the department store. As suggested by the billboard, he decided to purchase the gift online and pick it up at a special desk. Andre then took his IBM Workpad’ out and turned on the device. He commanded his Workpad to find the ad about “Macy’s gift set sale” (by clicking on the graphical user interface or through the speech interface). His Workpad used the Bluetooth SDP (Service Discovery Protocol [3]) and displayed 3 gift sets that are on sale at Macy. He selected the one he wanted and was able to get a more detailed description of the gift set and its availability. While the gift set was still io stock, Andre initiated an online purchase request by clicking on the URL attached with the ad description. The eCommerce server of Macy’s sent a bill to his browser on his Workpad. He reviewed the bill and chose his VISA card to pay for the bill. After his browser sent the payment information to Macy’s eCommerce server, a pickup voucher was received by his browser. The voucher also indicated that the gift set can he picked up anytime at Macy’s pickup area. Andre was very happy that he is almost done with this shopping experience. But, wait! The gift voucher also said that as a courtesy to Macy’s value customer, a complimentary drink voucher was attached which can be redeemed at the Starbucks coffee shop right on the way to Macy’s pickup area. Andre was delighted. So he proceeded to the Starbuck store and used the Workpad’s IR (Infrared) beaming p] to redeem the drink voucher. With a few more walks, Andre arrived at the pickup area. He redeemed the voucher for the gift set by IR beaming and went home with his mother’s birthday gift set. 2.3 Real-time Promotion Scenario

Andre, his wife, and his 2 children were about to walk out of a cinema on a Saturday evening around 7pm. Andre’s oldest son spotted a special dinner offer at McDonald’s from a billboard located at the exit hallway. The ad said, “For limited time only you can get 30% off, if you download this offer and redeem it within an hour.” Andre’s wife thought it is a bargain, so Andres took out his PDA and downloaded the digital coupon via a Bluetooth connection to the billboard. The coupons included directions to a local McDonald witbin 300 feet. After IO families have responded to the ad, the billboard displayed a thank-you message and displayed another advertisement. The family then walked to the McDonald where Andre paid

IBM Workpads are re-branded Palm handhelds [Z].

for the family meal by cash after he beamed the coupon into the store’s point-of-sale terminal. 2.4 Information Access Scenario On a Saturday morning Andre flew to Orlando airport to attend a professional conference. After he checked out his bags at the baggage claim area, he saw a billboard on a wall displaying “Local information available here through your Bluetooth-enabled PDA.” Since Andre wanted to know if there will he rain in the next few days, he used his Workpad to connect to the local Bluetooth network and found out if he needs to buy an umbrella soon. While connecting to the Bluetooth network, Andre also saved into his Workpad other information such as points of interest, special local events, and discount admission to selected attractions in case he needed it later on. 2.5 Advertising Events Scenario Andre was done for the day and was waiting for his train to come on a Friday afternoon. He saw a billboard on the platform presenting information about several special TV programs scheduled for the coming Saturdays. One of the programs looked very interesting, so Andre took out his Workpad and mmmanded it to find out this program. His Workpad used Bluetooth SDP to search in the neighborhood for advertising sources and came back with 3 programs. He selected the one he wanted, and saw the broadcasting date in the next screen. Attached with the ad are two ‘‘sol?” buttons: one for “discard” and the other for “save into calendar”. Andre clicked on the “save” button and his Workpad did the rest for him including setting up an alarm that will go off 30 minutes before the program goes on air.

3 Overview Design 3.1 Pbysical Components

Our system consists of three types of physical components: the electronic billboard, the client mobile device and the backend server. The electronic billboard is equipped with a prominent display and both short-range wireless (such as Bluetooth [l]) and broadband communication capabilities. As shown in Figure 1, the electronic billboard is connected to a LAN that provides broadband connectivity with remote servers as well as short-range wireless access to client mobile devices. The client device can be a PDA or a smart mobile phone equipped with the short-range wireless communication interface (e.g., Bluetooth). The server component represents a middleware inhtructure deployed for e-commerce, Web portal and business processing. 3 3 Logical Components The proposed system is a distributed computing system consisting of three logical components that correspond to the three physical components, respectively. They are the


Portal Client operating on the client mobile device; the Portal Gateway managing the electronic billboards as well as performing gateway functions between the Portal Client and the server; and the Interactive Billboard Management System processed on the backend server.

Electronic Billboard

Backend Server

Client, next connects to the e-commerce server in the Interactive Billboard Management System for the advertised products and then requests for transaction processing on the Portal Client’s behalf. The Interactive Billboard Management System, running on the server, executes the business functions of the electronic billboard system. This logical component may be itself a distributed system running in an enterpriselevel middleware infrastructure. Its business functions may include scheduling and distribution of the ads to remote Portal Gateways, Web portal sewer processing for advertised products, and e-commerce server processing for transaction computation.

4 The System Architecture


4.1 The Portal Client

Client Mobile Devices Figure 1. Physical Components of the Electronic Billboard System.

The Portal Client in the Interactive Billboard system is the user interface that the user operates on her mobile device in order to interact with the Portal Gateway. It includes the functions of display, query, selection and storage of product information (e.g., URL, phone numbers, product specifications and electronic coupons). The current Web browser technology can be adopted as the Portal Client. 4 2 The Portal Gateway

The Portal Gateway manages electronic billboards and wireless access points, processes server requests, interacts with clients and serves as a gateway proxy between the client and the server. It consists of the following five modules as shown in Figure 3:

Figure 2. Logical Components of the Electronic Billboard System. Figure 2 illustrates the three logical components of the proposed system. The Portal Client is the user interface located in the client’s mobile devices, with which the user interacts with the Portal Gateway. The Portal Gateway manages the electronic billboard that shows product information (Le., ads) that is pushed down from the server to the Portal Gateway. When the user requests additional product information (such as an URL, a phone number, or product specifications), the Portal Gateway first seeks through its storage cache for such information. If the requested data is not found in the gateway’s cache, the Portal Gateway retrieves the data from the server and then sends it to the Portal Client. If the user requests a transaction, the Portal Gateway first receives credit information transmitted from the Portal


[ Manager I Figure 3. Architectwe of Portal Gateway.

Billboard Manager keeps track of the reaktime state of all the electronic billboards that it manages and reports the state back to the Interactive Billboard Management system. Scheduler receives ad content and schedules that are pushed down from the scheduling server of the Interactive Billboard Management system, and, based on the schedules, sends the ad content to the designated billboards for display. Cache Manager. The Portal Gateway accepts client requests through wireless LAN access points. If the client requests for product information, the cache manager looks


up its own storage cache for such information and transmits it back to the client if found. If not, the cache manager retrieves this information from the Web portal server of the Interactive Billboard Management system. Gateway Proxy. If the client requests a transaction, the gateway proxy facilitates the interactive transaction processing between the Portal Client and the e-commerce server in the Interactive Billboard Management system. If the link between the Portal Gateway and the server goes down, while transaction processing through Portal Gateway will be unavailable, the Portal Gateway can still serve the clients with information available from its local cache. Furthermore, the Portal Gateway can provide information about alternative methods to complete a transaction. For example, the Portal Gateway can provide an URL or a phone number for a PDA or WAP [5] phone client. In this case the PDA or WAP phone client can use its own cellular network to connect to the URL or dial the number to perform the transaction. Alternatively, the Portal Gateway can simply provide a map or the location of a nearby store where the desired good is available. Wireless Services Manager manages the wireless access points through which the Portal Gateway communicates with the Portal Client. It monitors the state of each wireless access points that it manages and collects statistical information of wireless access history and then sends it back to the device manager of the Interactive Billboard Management System. 4 3 Tbe Interactive Billboard Management System The Interactive Billboard Management System is the backend control of all the Portal Gateways and the electronic billboards they manage. It processes the business logic that includes the registering and scheduling of the advertisements, the dissemination of product information and the execution of transactions as requested by the Portal Client through a Portal Gateway. Scheduling Server accepts advertisers’ requests for posting ads at selected billboarddlocations at given time (i.e., reservation for billboard’s “air time”). It computes a schedule for each billboard and sends to each Portal . Gateway the ads content and the schedules for the billboards that this Portal Gateway manages. Product Information Web Portal Server. The information of the advertised products accessible by the Portal Clients is nnnaged by the product information Web portal server. Ecommerce Sewer accepts transaction processing requests from the users through a Gateway Portal. Device Manager collects the state information for each billboard and wireless network access point from Portal Gateways in real-time. It also receives statistical data from the wireless access history from Portal Gateways.

Content Manager ensures that ads and production information requested by the users are rendered appropriately based on the device type. Middleware Infrastrnctnre The scheduling server, the product information Web portal server and the ecommerce server are components of the middleware inhtructure that is the backbone of the Interactive Billboard Management system. In addition to these three components, other middleware components maybe deployed. They include Web servers, application servers, database servers, security management system, transaction server, and distributed computing management system.



Interadhe Billboard Management


Middleware Infrastructure


Figure 4 . Architecture of the Interactive Billboard Management System.

5 Implementations 5.1 The Client Portal

The Bluetooth [I] technology is a promising solution for short-range wireless connectivity. The client device can establish a link to the Portal Gateway through a Bluetooth LAN access point. The Wireless Access Protocol (WAP) [ 5 ] is a standard protocol stack for wireless communication targeting at handheld devices. Therefore, it is feasible that the user operates on a WAPenabled browser as the Client Portal on his Bluetooth-enabled handheld device which connects to the Gateway Portal through a Bluetooth LAN access point. 5.2 The Gateway Portal The Gateway Portal can be implemented as a computer system with Internetenabled LAN connection. The same LAN is also connected to the billboards managed by this Gateway [email protected] “d provides Bluetooth wireless access ports coupled with each billboard. The wireless service manager of +e Gateway Portal needs to handle two newly proposed Bluetooth profiles for interacting with consumers’ PDAs. The first one, called Advertisement Pull Profile, is for supporting the transaction-based informationdownload scenarios, including “reahtime promotion” and “advertising events”.


The second one, called Point-to-Point Web Browsing, is for supporting the session-based “information access scenario”. In the Point-to-Point Web Browsing Profile, the proxy gateway running on the billboard Gateway Portal responds to the URL requests coming from PDAs through a Bluetooth connection set up by the Wireless Service Manager. A point-to-point TCP/IF’ link is set up over the Bluetooth connection between the Gateway Portal and PDAs, possibly using a modified LAN Access Profile [2] . Once the link is up, the gateway proxy serves as a proxy between the PDAs and the e-commerce server or the product Web portal server ofthe backend system. In the advertisement pull profile, the gateway proxy responds to the download requests coming from PDAs through a Bluetooth connection set up by the Wireless Service Manager. A serial link is set up over the Bluetooth connection, by using a modified Generic Object Exchange Profile. The scheduler of the Gateway Portal keeps track of the few latest ads that were rendered on the billboard, since these ads are more likely to be requested by consumers. In this profile, when a general request is received, the gateway proxy retrieves from its caches and responds with a short list of ads, each with a reference number that can go with a specific request sent by consumers.

5.3 Backend Interactive BULhoard Management System In general, Interactive Billb&d Management system can be implemented as a standard enterprise middleware system that leverages Web technology. The wommerce and Web portal server are off-the-shelf technologies offered by many IT product and solution vendors such as IBM and BEA. The multimedia content manager and distributed device manager are also ready technologies available from the IT market. Some aspects of the Interactive Billboard Management system are not ready solutions like the ones mentioned above. They include the scheduling server which is specific to our problem domain. The scheduling server accepts advertisements from advertisers and schedules the advertisements based on the availability of the r e m t e billboards. The scheduling server can be implemented as an advertisement scheduling Web portal. The advertisement scheduling Web portal is a web application for advertisers to find out the location and capabilities of the currently available billboard. The advertisers can use the services provided by the portal to negotiate the time, the advertisement to be aired, the prices, and other terms with the billboard operator. The portal performs content management (scheduling, usage tracking, billing, etc.) on a large scale. When an advertiser submits its ad to the portal, four types of schedules can be requested “a chunk of time” for premium customers, “round robin” for regular ads, “fill the gap time” for cost conscious customers, and “emergency broadcast” for realtime promotion.

Once an advertisement is booked in a selected time frame for certain remote billboards, the schedule server relies on the content manager to ensure that the rendering of the ad is appropriate for the display device on which this ad is to be displayed. After the content of this ad is rendered properly, the schedule server sends the content and its schedule to the Gateway Portal that manages the targeted billboards.

6 Related Work Haritaoglu and Flickner [4] describe a reakime visbn system for electronic billboards that can detect and count number of people standmg in front of the billboards, determine how long they have been looking at the advertisements currently shown on the billboards, and try to obtain demographics information about the audience automatically to determine when and which advertisements might be shown on the electronic billboard to reach a targeted audience. Instead of using infrared illuminationbased pupil detection to detect whether people are looking at the billboard, this paper proposes to use short-range radio communication to determine the usage of a particular advertisement.

7 Conclusion Our paper describes an interactive electronic billboard, which is to provide a new advertisement channel for e commerce, promotion, information access, and announcement. By combining display and short-range wireless technologies at specific locatiodtime, targeting at specific type of consumers, the system is expected to be more effective to engage with consumers. The key technologies such as display, pervasive devices and shortrange wireless communication are continuing to evolve in the marketplace. We plan to continue our work on implementation and deployment. We envision that the interactive billboard system will be key to the future advertising and retail industry solutions.

References [I] Bluetooth, [2] Bluetooth LAN Access Profile,’foundry/specification/document/ LAN-accessgrofile/en/l/ [3] D. Farnsworth (Ed.), Service Discovery Protocol (SDP),, 2001. [4] I. Haritaoglu, M. Flickner, “Attentive Billboard”, International Conference on Image Analysis and Processing, pp. 162- 167,2001. [5] Infrared beaming, [6] Palm handbelds, bttp:// [7]Wireless Access Protocol (WAP),