Virtual posters may one day take over Hong Kong skyscrapers with augmented reality technology

Format will allow posters and ads to be projected in the air, without the need for screens

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 March, 2017, 2:16pm
UPDATED : Monday, 27 March, 2017, 4:08pm

“Hanging” a virtual poster 60 storeys high that stretches 200 metres wide across the 88-storey Two International Finance Centre in Central may one day be a reality with the help of a new form of technology.

Augmented reality, which enhances the real world environment with digital elements, as seen in smartphone game Pokémon Go that swept Hong Kong last year, could soon be used for outdoor advertising on skyscrapers, adding a new dimension to Hong Kong’s skyline.

British company Lightvert is currently developing a type of large-scale outdoor advertising technology which does not require a billboard or an LCD television set. The advertisement will not be attached to a building at all, but will be projected through lasers in the air, appearing in such a way that a “virtual” poster is created momentarily. A narrow strip of reflective material will be fixed to the side of the building and a high-speed light scanner will project light off a reflector and towards the viewer.

With this technology, giant posters could seemingly appear in the air.

Daniel Siden, founder and chief executive of Lightvert, said the new technology, called Echo, would be particularly attractive in Hong Kong with its strong array of tall buildings and impressive skyline.

“Echo allows us to create the world’s largest outdoor advertising images without the need for the world’s largest 2D screen,” Siden said.

He said the technology was still in the development stage, and the company was still holding a crowdfunding campaign to raise £670,000 (HK$6.5 million).

“We have already produced six working prototypes. The technology allows us to produce images up to 200 metres tall, in theory, and we have already produced images up to 30 metres tall. It also allows us to mount our technology in locations that traditional screen technology cannot access.”

Lightvert has already received encouragement from some key stakeholders.

International advertising agency M&C Saatchi said the idea was “exciting”, as the technology “frees up the mind to new creative possibilities”.

Savills, a global real estate consulting firm, said the idea could help its customers generate revenue as well as be a means to “differentiate” their properties. For the laser projector to be installed, payment would need to be made to the buildings, helping to generate revenue.But is Hong Kong ready for it?

“This sounds very exciting for the Hong Kong outdoor advertising media sector,” said Vincent Lam, chairman of Asiaray, a listed outdoor advertisement firm.

“If all buildings can project pictures, it will look very futuristic. But at this stage it is difficult to comment on the end result,” Lam said. “From a professional point of view, quality is most important for advertising clients, such as brightness, resolution, and contrast.

“But there are also other issues. Will there be light pollution? A laser is a high-power light – would it affect people’s lives and become a health hazard? There are also legal issues.”

Lam said Hong Kong already had innovative outdoor advertising products, such as the UBS advert atop a Tsim Sha Tsui building which is a billboard during the day and an animated LED display at night.

“We have also wrapped the entire CITIC Tower with LEDs, which light up only at night, but it helps brighten up the harbour,” Lam said.

He said there were also scenario-driven advertisements.

“The advertisements that are run depend on the situation – for example, they may run sunscreen advertisements on a sunny day.”