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UW researchers create 'smart poster' ads that sing, play messages to cell phones & radios

Two University of Washington researchers are developing an innovative, low cost way to advertise by turning posters into radio stations that play music or messages to those who tune in. (Photo: KOMO News)

SEATTLE - Posters are everywhere in a city. They dress up a department store window, showcase the latest brew at a coffee shop and a particular band coming to town.

Most of us catch them out of the corner of our eye and then move on. But, two University of Washington researchers want you to linger a bit longer around the kind of poster they are developing.

“The idea is we transforming them into their own little mini radio station that you can tune into,” said UW electrical engineering doctoral student and co-creator Vikram Iyer.

He along with UW computer science and engineering doctoral student Anran Wang are developing “smart posters” that can essentially broadcast an FM radio signal using very little power.

“Let’s just say you can walk up to it and just tune to a radio station and hear the music that is coming from this poster,” said Iyer. “That's the kind of thing we would enable with this.”

The UW team has, for the first time, demonstrated how to apply a technique called backscattering to outdoor FM radio signals and use them to generate a new signal from the poster.

The new system transmits messages by reflecting existing FM radio signals that are all around us encoding audio, and data in these signals onto unused FM frequencies without affecting the original radio transmissions.

Since the reflective signal has a very short range, smart posters could be placed all over a city and coordinated to smart cast on one frequency without interfering with the other. Iyer said a small battery could power a smart poster 24 hours a day seven days a week for years.

“That would make it practical to put outside long term,” said Iyer.

Essentially, drivers could 'tune in' to the poster while at a stop light.

Iyer and Wang are currently designing a t-shirt that can do the same thing. The concept is in the prototype stage with funding provided by the National Science Foundation and Google Faculty Research Awards.

“We are trying to see if people are interested and this could be commercialized,” said Iyer.

In the future, we may tuning into a poster near you.

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