The Coughing Billboard

You know when you really sink your teeth into something and end up feeling like an expert in the field? Well this time we became experts in targeting smokers in the busy streets of Stockholm, that might need a push in the right direction. We helped Apotek Hjärtat, together with our friends at Åkestam.Holst, to create an interactive billboard that would get its attention from the by-passers because of its technical solution. The concept was simple: the billboard would show a person that would start coughing as soon as a cigarette was detected in front of the billboard, and encourage the smoker to look into stop smoking.

Coughing 2 Splash
More than a billboard

First condition was that we had to pull this off outside, in the freezing cold winter of Stockholm. During a limited time we got access to a ClearChannel digital billboard, where we could install our hardware and create a custom player for the big screen. With some blazing fast coding, we managed to run our software off the existing platform - protected from the weather outside.

Coughing Sign Conf
Where’s Waldo?

Then we had to figure out to detect smoke… Or actually cigarette smoke. Not so easy in an environment filled with particles from cars and buses passing by… Together with Åkestam.Holst we researched different approaches and found some detectors that were almost super-human! We ended up being able to detect a cigarette within 10-15 meters - sometimes the detector went off, and we didn’t see who was smoking, and then after a second look we would notice that there was actually someone in the distance puffing away. Great stuff!

And there was light

Now the only problem was the signals getting from the detector to inside that airtight box… We needed something that could travel from one system to another, without any physical connection. The answer was light! We found a way to emit light when the sensors went off, and then we detected that from the weather sealed box - logic and simple!

Reactions

As we tend care a lot about these subject - health and technology, this project got a lot of attention in the international media - appearing on the big news websites, for example CNN, Business Insider, Daily Mail and Huffington Post. Many praising the creative solution… But also some strong reactions on how they as smokers were pointed out by our technical solution. Well, smoking IS bad - don’t kill the messenger!