LED And The Perils Of Public Reach

April 17, 2018 by Dave Haynes

Medium to fine pitch LED displays can have tremendous visual impact in the right environment, but the thing customers should always bear in mind is that the little surface-mounted LED chips that produce the colored light are fragile – attached to their substrates with microscopic wiring.

In plain terms, if they’re within public reach – and largely unattended – they’re going to get the shit beat out of them, intentionally or more likely by accident. The general public does not know these things are far more vulnerable to bumps than an LCD display.

Here are a couple of photos shot today during a quick blast through Toronto Union Station, the main commuter hub for the city, that sees 300,000 people move through the labyrinthine building daily. A few months ago, the bank TD Canada Trust put in an ATM with an LED surround, showing nature scenes, in one section of the passenger concourse.

It looks really nice, but my immediate reaction when told about it was that it was going to get beat up. Real good.

And it has.

The edges on the corner have lost numerous LED chips or pixels, or whatever you want to call them, knocked off as people brush by. There is also an 18-inch (or something) scar along the lower part of the main face of the thing (squint at the middle of the pic below), probably done by a corner of a piece of luggage brushing against it and tearing off the surface-mounted LEDs in the process.

The screen still looks good, and most people won’t even notice the damage. But if the modules/chips get repaired, it will be painstaking and expensive, particularly if on site. Maybe the bank people understood there would be attrition, but saw that as acceptable deterioration only signage nerds like me would notice (and write about). As you can see from the top photo, it’s hard to notice unless you set out to notice.

I like this tech, but for now it really ought to be installed in places where the displays can be seen and not touched. Even the gorgeous fine pitch walls in Apple stores get a few bumps.

That will all change. I’ve seen fine pitch modules at ISE and later at DSE that had hardened coatings, that would prevent this sort of thing. But right now that tech is early stage and VERY expensive. With time, and assuming the reliability of LED modules is unaffected by this coating, my guess is it will be commonplace for public installs.

For now, when you see these things – have a good look, but DON’T TOUCH!

The bank has also installed a kiosk banking center nearby on the rail station concourse, with LED panels creating a canopy. Ambient content is scheduled in, and what I saw were drifting clouds against a blue sky. I was told it tied in with the nature scenes from the ATM. I don’t know how many commuters would connect those dots, though.

I kinda sorta like the concept, but also wonder what the objective might be – other than cool. Which will be a fleeting reaction, I think. One good thing – the LED chips are way out of reach, unless a member of the Raptors walks by.

  1. This thing will happen no doubt how much care you are taking of that displays. But yes, you can use some protective screens over that displays so that any damage will not affect display directly.

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