David Weinfeld

Exploring the Convergence of Media and Technology

An Inside Look at San Francisco’s Interactive Bus Shelters

The 72” interactive bus shelters that have been installed in neighborhoods across San Francisco have realized significant game play and press since their launch. Over 80,000 game plays since the campaign launch last week of November 2010.

San Francisco’s interactive bus shelters represent a step forward for municipalities and the whole of the digital out of home media industry. The city’s commitment to transition some of its static bus shelters to digital and interactive was one of forethought and an eye toward the future.

The interactive experience enabled through the bus shelters is what is truly groundbreaking. The system architecture which supports the bus shelters, linking each to make synchronous, touch-enabled social gaming possible across neighborhoods, has made the execution an industry first.

The deployment has brought new found life to the bus shelters surrounding San Francisco. In their unique design and architecture, the units have been further embedded within the fabric of their respective communities. They now act as sources of education, information, engaging interactions, social connections, and neighborhood pride.

The one-of-a-kind project brought together an inter-disciplinary team of designers, technologists, engineers, programmers, and strategists. The collaborative effort reached across every company involved, showcasing the merits of blending the creative and technical elements of a digital out-of-home execution from start-to-finish. As the flagship advertiser behind the project, Yahoo played an instrumental role in bringing the unique interactive systems to life.

Yahoo’s support of the interactive project has seen the “Bus Stop Derby” experience spread across major technology blogs and media sites alike. The immersive touchscreen experience, coupled with the dynamic social elements of the campaign, continue to captivate audiences across San Francisco. Competing in real-time against neighboring communities to host a block party with rock band OK Go doesn’t hurt either.

Playing a major role in the project, I can tell you, first hand, that my colleagues at Obscura Digital couldn’t be prouder. Providing the foundation on which such a creative technological effort could be created, speaks to Obscura Digital’s passion for bringing the online and offline worlds together. The creativity and level of technical intelligence embedded within San Francisco’s interactive bus shelters highlight the next generation of digital signage.

Amazing partners like Clear Channel and Yahoo made the development of the system unforgettable. While the user experience of the interactive bus shelters deserves the lion’s share of the attention, I felt it important to highlight the behind-the-scenes work of the developers, technologists, and designers whose contributions made the “Yahoo Bus Stop Derby” a reality.

The hardware and software that power such systems provide the framework from which to create innovative brand-focused, retail, and event executions. Dynamic technology platforms constitute the engines that transform physical environments into digital playgrounds. This is surely the case with San Francisco’s interactive bus shelters.

The content management system, graphics processing unit, and real-time measurement application built into each digital bus shelter are capable of producing 3D graphics and immersive content the likes of which have not been seen in the digital out-of-home media sector. Clear Channel and its partners have just begun to scratch the surface of what these systems are capable of. The “Yahoo Bus Stop Derby” is a crowning example of what can be achieved at the convergence point of creativity and technology.

San Francisco’s interactive bus shelters have been built with the future in mind. Owing to Clear Channel’s and Obscura Digital’s views on the expansion of the web into real world environments, the units allow for seamless scalability and back-end cloud networking.

From supporting cinema-level 3D graphics, processing interactive 3D visualizations, to offloading real-time rendering to the cloud,  San Francisco’s new bus shelters can do everything short of driving you to the office.  On top of that, the shelters have been equipped with a real-time user-metrics collection system that provides advertisers with actionable intelligence throughout their interactive campaigns. The granular behavioral data that the units capture can be used to optimize applications in real-time, so to achieve the highest level of user engagement.

As the architect of the content management system behind the units, Obscura Digital developed and implemented the innovative process integrity service which dials in remote access control for each screen and monitors and updates critical content. The Obscura / Clear Channel program is projected to grow to over 300 displays by Q3 2011.

As highlighted by Obscura Digital’s CEO Patrick Connolly, the interactive bus shelters capture the company’s commitment to reimagining how people interact with the world and information around them. Evidenced further by the award-winning multi-touch walls installed at Hard Rock Cafes across the world, Obscura Digital is focused on enhancing the physical world through scalable, networked technology solutions.

“Bringing the Internet out of the Internet is where we see the future of retail and advertising,” said Patrick Connolly, CEO of Obscura Digital.

“Most companies continue to put a ton of money into their websites. The ability to take that out into the world through digital out-of-home media is the wave of the future.”

Having grown out of a partnership between the City of San Francisco and Clear Channel, the 20 interactive bus shelters are just the first step in much larger digital plans for San Francisco and beyond.

The level of innovation embedded within San Francisco’s interactive bus shelters promises to push the entire digital signage sector forward. It is a call to the industry to think not only about what objectives display and software technology must fulfill in the near-term, but what the technology will be asked to do in the future.

This is one of the reasons why I was drawn to Obscura digital n the first place. The company pushes the boundaries of technology and relishes in the opportunity to build platforms that extend experiences across media channels. We have seen touchscreen technology embedded within bus shelters before. This effort represents a merger of hardware, software, creative, and technical expertise such that these systems resonate as a complete experience more than a touch-enabled flat panel display. The physical boundaries of the display fade away once a user engages in the Yahoo Bus Stop Derby experience.

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