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LEDs and Motors Power a Redesigned Street Sign

By Wesley Fenlon

The Points sign system won't be cheap, but it offers a cool Internet of Things approach to the street signs we all know.

What happens when a design agency gets its hands on the old fashioned directional sign, which has, for so long, helpfully pointed to a destination with a simple arrow on one end and text stretched across its length? It gets fancier. And, of course, more high-tech. Design firm BREAKFAST, as Smithsonian Mag is showing off, has reimagined the kinds of signs you encounter in walking cities or on dusty trails with a lot less plain steel and a lot more programmable LEDs.

BREAKFAST's sign project is called Points, of course. And they say it's the most advanced sign system on Earth. The arms that point towards different paths or destinations are no longer static--they're motorized and can rotate around the pole to point out a new destination. A control panel on the pole gives passersby the opportunity to choose between five destinations, though that control panel can be updated remotely throughout the day. A list of popular daytime tourist areas could, in the evening, transition to the city blocks full of restaurants and nightclubs.

Each sign has a display crammed with 16,000 LEDs that can, of course, be changed on the fly. The main appeal of Points' is its Internet connectivity--the system can be controlled remotely and its LEDs can be programmed to display any information that will fit on the sign. A weather icon and temperature are simple but useful additions, but that's the bare minimum the signs can display. They can update with train arrivals, or event times, or abandon the concept of providing directions altogether and show off something like a sports score or a news scroll.

Of course, there are already signs that can do those things, which may make Points a tough sell. BREAKFAST writes "Points leverages content from Foursquare, Twitter, transportation APIs, RSS feeds and many other online sources, but more importantly it can be expanded to work with almost any online data source and adapt to any location where it’s installed."

So the system is flexible. That Internet connectivity is very cool. But what city would want to shell out for signs that need a constant 500 watts of power and an Internet connection? If Points shows up anywhere, our bet's on Disney World or Six Flags or some other amusement park. Or, as Smithsonian Mag suggests, Vegas, which is pretty much an amusement park, too.