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'Canopy' gives subway trains an outside view

Innovative design concept uses ceiling-mounted e-paper displays to give underground passengers a view of life above that dark tunnel they're stuck in. And maybe flash them a few ads along the way.

No, I totally don't notice that man cursing at a fellow passenger. I'm too busy watching flowers and bunnies above ground.
Matt Batchelor, Amrita Kulkarni, and Emma Laurin

Ever had the experience of being in a subway and feeling completely disconnected from the world outside? A group of British design students has dreamed up Canopy, a concept display system that would attach to the ceiling of an underground train to give passengers a picture of life above.

Canopy uses dynamic flexible "e-paper" display panels affixed to the interior of the train. As a train moves along its line, commuters get a view of passing landmarks, a sight that could definitely brighten a stodgy ride. (Then again, it could be a bit dispiriting to watch the world stroll happily down a breezy tree-lined street while you're stuck sweating in a crowded, stalled train.)

The content, stored on an embedded PC in the train, is updated via Wi-Fi either at the station or in the tunnel, depending on where service is available.

In addition to showing a view of the outside world, the creators of Canopy -- Royal College of Art students Matthew Batchelor, Amrita Kulkarni, and Emma Laurin -- imagine the system could show ambient animations of weather conditions, information on events along a route, and (you knew this was coming) ads.

Advertisers, they say, could pay for unobtrusive, relevant ads and track their effectiveness via QR codes used to track the response rate and charge on a pay-per-click basis.

If ads don't end up overwhelming the experience, I'm really liking this concept, which showed publicly recently at RCA's annual summer show in London. In addition to making subterranean travel more entertaining, maybe all that staring upward could help counteract the dreaded sagging smartphone face allegedly afflicting those who spend so much time looking down.

Advertisements about events along your route could just change your travel plans. Matt Batchelor, Amrita Kulkarni, and Emma Laurin