Digital signage, both on-board and on the wayside, continues to evolve to keep up with today's 24-hour consumer. In a world of wireless technology, transit agencies are able to give customers accurate information faster than ever through these integrated systems, which will only become more advanced in the coming years.
Readability steadily improves while component prices fall — making these more high-tech signs slightly cheaper to buy than just a few years ago. The type of information delivered to riders, whether in bus or rail, is changing to fit a society that wants everything at their fingertips. Aside from convenience features, goals in safety and ease-of-use help to shape the direction digital signage companies move toward in offering reliable products to their customers.
Flip-Dot Takes Back Seat
Aluminum signs that sit idly by a bus shelter or the flip dot signs that predate the wireless age are becoming a thing of the past, though there are many agencies around the world still using both, and there are many bus shelters, for example, where a digital sign might not be necessary. So, while agencies weigh rider satisfaction with which stops really need a digital sign, how much functionality the sign needs and what the budget allows, the technology just keeps getting better.
Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are replacing the outdoor flip-dot technology, where small metal discs with black on one side and a bright color on the other sit atop a black background. Once powered, the discs flip over to show the bright side and are able to remain in place without power until the message needs to change.
Before LED signs, these flip-dot signs had low nighttime visibility, and because they're made out of all moving parts, the maintenance on flip-dot signs can be excessive. LED signs, on the other hand, are made in a solid-state manufacturing process — decreasing any necessary maintenance. LED technology isn't new, but requires less energy than when it first debuted, and how it's used is becoming more and more intricate.
Luminator, a lighting and communications design and manufacturing company that serves bus, rail and aerospace industries, announced in July a new technology called "Surface Mount LEDs." In these signs, the LED lens is flat, instead of cone-shaped like the traditional lens. This design allows the sign to be read from angles without losing any of the intensity of the light.
"The biggest advantage on the viewing angle is that it allows us better readability because it's brighter on an angle, so if you're looking at the sign from a side angle you'll actually be able to see the sign better, especially for the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) community," says Daniel Kelleher, Luminator's VP of sales and marketing.
Another positive effect of Surface Mount LEDs is it decreases the amount of materials used for each LED, thereby lowering the overall system weight by 20 percent for any sign that uses the technology, according to Kelleher.
Hanover Displays, another manufacturer of electronic destination signs that has nearly quadrupled in size since it arrived in the U.S. market, is able to tightly pack the LEDs, which gives the characters more definition, such as in the different font options, and better readability. According to Dave Williams, sales director and owner of Hanover Displays, the company's ability to pack in the LEDs is due to the fact that it makes all its own parts - allowing clear oversight of the radial insertion machine that stuffs and point solders each LED into the board. Luminator also manufactures all its own parts.
"One of the key reasons Hanover has experienced such longevity and product reliability is in the manufacturing technique, and that really has to do with the fact that we manufacture our own boards," says Brandon Curtis, sales manager for North America, adding that the company had to make substantial investments in the manufacturing process but that the return has been worth it. "The whole process has been automated."