Technology Enables Billboards to Direct Camera Phone Users to Website


In Japan, Northewest Airlines is running a billboard campaign which contains QR codes, small image tags on the billboards which contain an embedded URL. When a camera phone user takes a picture of the board, they are directed to a website that features a game where airline coupons can be won. A company called Semacode makes the technology behind the QR codes. Many phone manufacturers are adopting the technology which may make billboards finally serve a purpose other that simple brand awareness or physical directionals.

Written by Steve Hall    Comments (10)     File: Outdoor     Dec-12-05  
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terrible reporting that's just QRcode they have it all over japan since years. semacode is similar but is only new to United States and Europe and it was used for games there already a long time ago. hello from the rest of the world!

Posted by: kt on December 12, 2005 11:08 AM

I apologize that we're so U.S. centric, that most of our readers live in the U.S., that we're well aware we're way behind the rest of the world in these areas and that, for some reason, we thought it might be nice to make our readers aware of what our oh-so-much-smarter neighbors are doing.

Posted by: Steve Hall on December 12, 2005 11:31 AM

Actually some of you may also remember Qwest Communication's big urban game ConQwest which was developed by SS+K two years ago. I believe it was the first to use semacodes as a remote recognition technology in the states - - For ConQwest, competing teams of kids ran around the grids of the city streets scanning the semacodes with their cellphones in order to gain points and clues. Teams with the most points won money for their school. SS+K won a Clio and a OneShow award for their effort.

Posted by: BNW on December 12, 2005 12:15 PM

What BNW said, yeah. ConQwest was the first licensed use of Semacode for anything, and the first use of phonecam optical code-recognition in the United States (the first one I know about, anyway). It was a pleasure to work directly with Simon Woodside, who dreamed up Semacode.

Frank Lantz did the game design and Dennis Crowley (of Dodgeball/Google fame) built the back end so it could work with Qwest's lower-tech phones (Kamida worked on it later). It was one of the first big games used for corporate communications, and it's nice to see other big games like Northwest's getting attention.

Lots of ConQwest images here and here.

(and it's true, kt, it's old news in Asia, but that don't mean it's not news here.)

Posted by: Kevin Slavin on December 12, 2005 02:14 PM

Also see and for cell phone technology that allows billboards and other "offline" advertising mediums to allow the advertiser to engage the consumer "online" once the consumer is at their computer.

Posted by: Steve Poland on December 12, 2005 04:13 PM

Also see, for another company attempting this type of technology in the US.

Posted by: Adam on December 12, 2005 06:10 PM

Thanks for sharing with us naive Americans. Supercool.

Posted by: jen on December 13, 2005 02:13 PM

Only downside is that in the US and Europe consumers have to install the software themselves - and is not a standard on all handsets - where as in Japan QR technology is pre-installed on all handsets. So until Nokia and SonyEricsson pre-install the software this use of the technology as seen in Japan will remain out of the reach of the US and European consumer. Also the fact that in Japan/S.Korea the sophistication of their camera technology within mobile phones (keitai/handfone) is also far more sophisticated and advanced - so using the QR technology is easy and very accurate.

Posted by: andrew berglund on December 14, 2005 04:15 PM

Another company in this space called Nextcode launched a service recently called ConnexTo.

Posted by: daniel on December 16, 2005 10:23 AM

Nextcode may have signed a letter of intent with Neomedia Technologies. Everyone else will have to have some sort of agreement with patent holder of the linking the physical world to the internet thru a mobile device.

Neomedia owns the patents and everyone will have to pay to use it like Nextcode

Posted by: ken on December 22, 2005 08:19 PM

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