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Turn subway billboards into art with ad-blocking augmented reality app

Subway stations in New York City are covered with billboards. With an annual ridership of more than 1.7 billion people, you can see why all those eyeballs are highly sought after by advertisers. But instead of ads that are trying to sell you something, what if these subway stations became underground museums, replacing posters of movies or soft drinks, with artworks? That’s the intention of an augmented reality app called No Ad.

The free app for iOS and Android smartphones and tablets is simple to use. Just launch it and, using the device’s camera, position it over an ad. Onscreen, you can see the physical billboard transform into a digital static or animated artwork – turning your wait for a subway train to arrive, into a cultural experience. No Ad has collaborated with 50 artists, but it is planning to expand that with new partnerships and display new art on a month-to-month basis.

no-ad

One of those upcoming partnerships is with the International Center of Photography. In mid-October, No Ad will feature photographs from the Center’s collection.

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No Ad was created by Jordan Seiler, an artist and activist who runs the PublicAdCampaign website, The Heavy Projects, and Jowy Romano, creator of the Subway Art Blog, all collaborating as Re+Public. According to American Photo Magazine, the project channels artists such as Keith Haring and COST, who “sought to take control over and diversify the imagery with which upwards of 5 million commuters were bombarded on a daily basis.” While the app is made for mobile devices, ultimately, the creators “envision a future where users passively experience AR without cumbersome handheld devices, and instead simply use heads-up displays to experience an augmented public space hands free.”

We put No Ad to a quick test. The ad on the left is too new, but it replaced the one on the right with artwork (notice the artist's name listed above). We had about a 30 percent success rate, but it was still very fun.

We put No Ad to a quick test. The ad on the left is too new, but it replaced the one on the right with artwork (notice the artist’s name listed above). We had about a 30 percent success rate, but it was still very fun.

The app won’t work if an ad has been altered or there’s graffiti on it – which, as the app’s creators see it, has become some form of illegal art or an ad blocker – calling it a feature of the app, not a flaw. And as of now, the app will only work on the “100 most popular horizontal subway platform advertisements…often for movies, TV shows, and popular products,” throughout New York City Subway. The app will also not work if there’s a single, dominant advertiser, or if the ads have not yet been catalogued in its system. And, as you’ve probably figured it out, currently it only works in New York City.

(H/t American Photo Magazine)