E-Ink signs could help minimise the ‘visual noise’ in cities

New display technologies could help cities communicate with citizens in a less obtrusive way, making the urban environment more “visually quiet” while consuming far less energy than existing digital signage.

That’s according to John Lynch, project lead in Product & Service Design at the UK’s Future Cities Catapult, who said in a recent blog postthat connected E-Ink signage could improve public spaces.

Such low-energy, dynamic signs offer the opportunity for “a more finely tuned, sustainable and efficient balance of information delivery which is better suited to the quiet of our city’s green spaces,” Lynch argued.

“The much cited ‘Internet of Things’ hasn’t yet delivered on the promise of wholesale new and improved services,” he continued. “However through low-energy signage it could begin to quietly change the way our cities are understood, read and communicate with citizens and the economy. From way-finding to safety, advertising to transport, the humble signpost, in its many forms, has remained the staple and static channel through which cities present information.”

E-Ink technology enables a paper-like display and can already be seen in e-readers and some smartwatches. As technology develops, the same material is becoming available for use in the urban context.

“These crisp, high-contrast displays use a system which uses no energy at all in order to display static information. In addition, these displays are not obtrusive — they produce no light, meaning they might be better suited to sensitive heritage areas like parks or historic sites,” Lynch said.

And he highlighted an additional benefit in these areas: the potential to reduce the clutter of multiple notices down to one, dynamic display tool.

What’s more, dynamic signs can be refreshed more quickly and they might also get more attention from the public, Lynch pointed out.

“The Internet of Things offers many new ways in which we might act on our urban environment dynamically and in more efficient, sustainable and engaging ways,” he concluded.

Future Cities Catapult wants to hear from cities, businesses and researchers who might be interested in prototyping and demonstrating these kinds of technologies.

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