Pixel Track

Pixel Track is a prototype connected display system. We’ve developed a way of making a display which is especially appropriate to a specific kind of emerging networked use. The display uses a mechanical ‘scanning’ based system for updating pixels. This means that the display consumes no power while it remains static. As a side effect, the scanning technology changes the pixel form and the qualities and behaviours of the sign change. The mechanical nature of the surface means there is room for great flexibility in the form and material qualities of the display.

We’ve made a proof of concept (POC) prototype and some video sketches about how it might look in context.

Why?

Most electronic displays are setup for fast updating and made from LEDs or backlit LCDs. They require power, componentry and software to drive each pixel in a live display. Often these are in situations where the display doesn’t need to change for minutes, hours or even days. Sometimes slow displays are made with very manual technology, like rub downs, peg boards, A4 printouts or black boards. We see a space for a display that falls between live 24 frames per second updating and temporary manual signage.

Key to Pixel Track is its web API, provided by the Berg platform. It is a "dumb" object, and behaviour is controlled by services in the cloud. This is in contrast to many contemporary electronic displays which require local configuration, making management complex, and putting barriers in the way to integration with existing live systems and web services.

Proof of Concept

The POC prototype has helped us to understand the constraints and possibilities associated with the mechanism. The main body and surface of the display doesn’t contain any electronic components, it’s a passive manufacturable object. We move a small electro mechanical ‘train’ component up and down the display to update pixels rather than a large array of circuits.

The research has delivered a prototype with three significant effects on the behaviours and potential for the display as a system:

  • First, the separation between the electro-mechanical train and the pixels means that the large display surface messages are displayed on can be manufactured very cheaply. This means that the display can be very long, without a significant impact on the cost of any given installation.
  • Second, when the display isn’t changing, it is using very little power, which opens up the potential for battery operation in certain contexts.
  • Third, the display uses the Berg platform which means there is no local PC required, it can be controlled through the web. This means it can be updated manually from smartphones or tied in to web services and updated automatically according to events online.

Conclusion

Pixel Track is a successful proof of concept and we’re looking for partners who might be interested in an installation of Pixel Track. If you’d like to discuss an installation for a development or project you are working on, please get in touch.

Pixel Track video sketch

Many thanks for the input and contributions from the Future Cities Catapult and thanks to the Pixel Track team!