Are you seeing what I’m seeing? This is an age-old question asked during childhood in which you wonder whether the world you see is in fact the same for everyone.
Scientists, of course, never stop asking these questions, which often results in surprising real-world applications for some of their more apparently pie-in-the-sky experiments.
A group of former engineering students from Kitchener’s Creative License incubator has come up with a pioneering technique. The startup has developed technology that serves advertising directly to a viewer’s occipital lobe, with no external gear such as eyewear required. They’re calling it AdSurface.
The wavelengths of light reflected stimulate a specific set of nerves between the eye’s photoreceptors and the striatum, the part of the brain associated with love and drug addiction. This, says Blair, makes it perfect for advertising.
The technology uses a specially treated reflective surface that reacts in a unique way with the more than 120 million rods and cones in each human eyeball. The effect, says Eric Blair, one of the technology’s founders, is of seeing a customized reflection. No two people see the surface quite the same way. The wavelengths of light reflected stimulate a specific set of nerves between the eye’s photoreceptors and the striatum, the part of the brain associated with love and drug addiction. This, says Blair, makes it perfect for advertising.
The founders arrived at the breakthrough technology via rigorous optical experimentation and extensive research on waking dreams. The surface would appear to be blank to the theoretical viewer who has no desires. But what the engineers found was music to Madison Avenue’s ears: no such viewer exists. “We tested the technology on what we thought would be egoless subjects, like monks. They were funny, actually, because they begged us to stop almost immediately. It was like a sensory overload for them. Dogs go crazy, too. Probably they’re just seeing squirrels or something. So we still have to figure that out.”
The technology now awaits regulatory approval. There is a delay over agency jurisdiction, as regulators squabble over whether it falls under the CRTC or Health Canada’s remit.
“Each person sees the surface slightly differently. That’s the wonder of it, “ said Blair. “It’s a perfect medium for advertisers, because it customizes the ad based on an individual’s wants and desires. We determined, through a lot of volunteer testing, that a specific part of the brain responsible for dreaming and subconscious imagery is in fact very active while you’re awake. The challenge has been to develop a surface that stimulates that part of the brain specifically, and then to brand that surface with advertising.”
But is in-brain branding such a good idea? Is the public ready? And how can marketers get in on the ground floor? Blair assures: “We’re less than a year away. We still have a little development to do. And also to acclimatize the public, because this is going to be a little more disruptive than the usual thing. But we’ve already made external ocular branding, like eyeglasses, obsolete. The last kink we have to work out is making sure that only pleasant and desirable images make it as far as your optical nerve. Right now, the technology doesn’t discriminate between secret fears or subconscious desires. So we need to make sure we don’t release a technology that just terrifies people, in which we run the risk of pairing traumatic imagery with particular brands. We’d like to avoid that.”
Dr. George O’Brien of UAF College’s bioethics marketing program trained the young team, and sees no issue with the technology’s ramifications. “It’s very direct, yes. But we’re giving customers what they want. Not what they say they want in surveys, when they’re lying to us, but what they actually want. You can’t hide your feelings from this technology. What you see is what you want.”
Referring to his most obvious competition, augmented reality eyewear such as Google’s Glass, Dr. O’Brien scoffed. “With the eyewear technology, you have to put something on your face. Let’s say we developed a technique of figuring out your deepest fear. Like rats, say. And then we strapped that fear to your face, in a cage or something. That would be barbaric. These don’t even require a mechanism to be strapped to your face. So it’s very effective.”
The AdSurface technology should be rolling out sometime later this year, but some aren’t waiting for more proof. Unconfirmed reports have placed executives from Coca-Cola, Nike and Louis Vuitton in the Kitchener-Waterloo area in recent weeks. The company has provided more information here.