ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, IL — Smartphones and GPS have made paper maps virtually obsolete and put the power of navigation in our pockets. But now, engineers are working on a high-tech update for another directional tool that could revolutionize how we find our way around.
The first street signs date back hundreds of years. They help you figure out where you are and where you’re going.
But what if they could be updated throughout the day, hour by hour to keep you informed about what’s happening around you?
“This is a fully-functioning street sign that allows you to essentially market, advertise and communicate out to the public,” Michael Ottoman said, showing off a hi-tech version of the old street sign.
Ottoman is the president of Points Lab, LLC., the makers of a hi-tech smart sign known as the Points Sign, and it could be the future of street signs.
It looks simple enough from the outside, but it’s actually very complex.
“It allows municipalities to speak to the community,” said Ottoman. “It allows the local shops to speak to the community and allows the community to come in and get directions for information itself.”
The smart sign is essentially a stationary robot driven by artificial intelligence that can provide real-time, up-to-date directional information to help you get to where you want to be.
Three fins rotate about the pole as information is fed into the Points Sign.
“If you're at an amusement park and you want to go on a ride, it can tell you what direction the right is, but also can tell you what the wait time for that right is as well,” said Sajid Patel, CEO and co-founder of Optimal Design.
The project is a collaboration between the Points Lab and Patel’s award-winning engineering team Optimal Design, a technology innovation firm that develops everything from wearables and virtual reality gear to smart city products like the Points Sign.
“Our specialty is being able to develop outdoor electronics that have a lot of ruggedization built into them. So, everything from making sure it's earthquake-proof to hurricane, wind resistance-proof. And then there's always the use and abuse factor as well,” said Patel.
The street sign features a touchscreen display panel as well.
“It's interactive, meaning you can go up to the display itself,” said Ottoman. “You can say, ‘What's going on for dining?’ It drops down some dining locations for what you're interested in.”
The display menu updates as everything around it does. As more appropriate, popular, or timely events approach, the menu refreshes its options.
“You might want to have a lightning detector out in the park so that it can pick up and send information at lightning struck and then sound an alarm, saying ‘Everybody off the ball field,’” said Ottoman.
From an advertising standpoint, it can detect how many people are around it and point them to a sale at a local café.
If there’s a local emergency, it can adjust its message or change directions to point crowds to safety shelters during a storm.
“If there's, for example, an Amber Alert or if there is a tornado warning, that type of messaging, that emergency messaging will take precedent over everything else,” said Ottoman.
The smart street sign can be made permanent, semi-permanent, and even temporary for short-term events like conventions and outdoor concerts.
Touted as the most advanced directional smart sign on Earth, the Points Sign will begin rolling out in smart cities, convention centers, and even airports in the coming year.