I’m a total sucker for flip disc displays – electro-mechanical signs that rapidly flip through a succession of characters to convey information in a way that’s old school cool, and kind of hypnotic.
The tech is not new. These sorts of signs have been in airports and rail stations since the ’60s. But they’ve had a renaissance through companies like Breakfast – which showed at DSE a couple of years ago – and a Philly company called Oat Foundry, which has announced it is now shipping something called the Split Flap Display
I am assuming the name owes to how Breakfast flips circles, while this is squares, or flaps. Same basic idea.
“The Oat Foundry’s Split Flap plays into the desire to find non-digital and mechanical solutions that can perform the same tasks as digital displays,” says Oat Foundry CEO and Co-Founder Mark D. Kuhn IV. “We’re helping businesses to better engage with this growing customer base. People are tired of being bathed in the glow of TV’s. The Split Flap Display design runs against the grain of the LED and LCD norm, without sacrificing any of the 21st century functionality that businesses expect to be able to access when controlling their displays. It delivers powerful messages in a meaningful and creative way that is resonating with architects and designers for restaurants, retailers, hotels, and more.”
The units are hand-built in Philly – arrays of individual modules with 50 unique character flaps. An internal driving motor revolves each flap in a series of rotating animations. Oat Foundry suggests the tech represents, logically, a significant advance on the original Split Flap Displays of the early 20th century.
Note – After a century, you’d kinda hope so.
“When we build the display in our Philadelphia-based shop, the size, color, number of modules, fonts, and characters are entirely customized per customer, allowing businesses to truly emphasize their brand,” says Marketing Manager Jeff Nowak, “but the old-school ‘clacking’ flap sound we all know and love remains the same.”
For message control, the display’s intuitive web-based application makes configuration simple. The display is connected to an interface that allows businesses to send one-time messages, or schedule recurring messages to occur automatically.
For example, a bar manager can configure a happy hour menu to appear on the display starting at 5:00 PM and ending at 7:00 PM, running only Monday-Thursday of the week. “Users can set it and forget it without needing to keep a device powered on,” Nowak says. “This solves a very common pain point experienced with today’s commercial displays.”
Note – Not sure that’s a real pain point, but …
One thing I like is how messages can be pulled together and pushed to the screen right off a phone. That makes it easy for just about anyone to run these things.
The units can also pull data from sources in real time through customized API integrations and MQTT Protocol – meaning that in addition to scheduling custom messages, businesses can showcase information from a source in real-time, without their direct involvement.
“The Split Flap Display we installed at Nolita Hall in San Diego pulls real-time data from a Flight Tracker API to show the origin and flight number of planes as they fly over the Italian inspired beer hall,” Nowak continues. “This is just one example of what’s possible. With the integration capabilities of Split Flap, we can bridge the gap that analog once faced.”
Oat Foundry says it has been the only North America-based manufacturer of Split Flap Displays for the past five years. Current clients include the Chicago Cubs, Starbucks, Herschel Supply Co., Momofuku, Milk Bar, American Airlines, Hilton, Marriott, and many more.
Dave Haynes is the founder and editor of Sixteen:Nine, an online publication that has followed the digital signage industry for some 14 years. Dave does strategic advisory consulting work for many end-users and vendors, and also writes for many of them. He’s based near Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Canada’s east coast.