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Smart billboards will identify car models and target ads to drivers

Does it bother, please, or amuse you when targeted remarketing by Facebook or Google shows ads for items you recently investigated online? Regardless of how you feel about it, targeted advertising is not only here, but it’s going to increase.

Some day in the not-too-distant future ads you see on billboards will be there simply because of the make, model, and year of the vehicle you’re driving. Smart data storage company Cloudian and Japanese advertising company Dentsu are launching just such a program in Japan this fall, as reported by CNN Money.

Related: Twitter will celebrate your birthday with balloons and possibly targeted ads

Cloudian and Dentsu tested smart billboard vehicle recognition earlier this year with impressive results. Combining big data and deep learning, the test identified vehicles in traffic correctly 94 percent of the time.

The system starts by feeding the smart data storage system hundreds of thousands of used car images, with as many as 4,000 per vehicle make, model, and year. The programmers repeated the process for at least 200 vehicles — the number the system can now recognize correctly. With all those stored images, the deep learning artificial intelligence processes learned accurate pattern recognition of fast-moving vehicles several hundred feet distant.

Once the system has identified a vehicle, it displays a targeted ad on the LED billboard for as long as five seconds. The choice of ads to be displayed to specific vehicles is determined by the advertisers. For example, people driving a five-year old vehicle might see an ad for a newer model of the same car. Truck drivers might be shown ads for upcoming trucker-friendly stops.

As the technology is refined and as advertisers learn more about all types of targeted marketing and advertising we may see more surprising instances of ads we are presented with based on what we’re driving. It’s not that much of a stretch for example, for minivan drivers to be shown ads for family-vacation attractions.

Privacy advocates will likely see smart billboard ads as invasive. Unlike an EZPass electronic toll collection system, however, the Cloudian and Dentsu billboard systems won’t be tracking by license plate, just by vehicle characteristics. At least that’s the plan. Certainly, the license plate scanners used by law enforcement in some cities could give people cause to wonder if they are, or in the future will be, used in conjunction with smart billboards as well.