Most electronic signs look like electronic signs: They shine with bright LEDs—often red and blinking—to grab your attention at an airport or a laundry cleaner. That's the trade-off of having a sign you can easily update with new information. It can't look as organically beautiful as a good old-fashioned sign carved and painted by hand.
Or could it? Pixel Track is the latest concept out of Berg, and it combines the best of digital signs with the best of analog signs. Conceived by Durrell Bishop—the person behind the highly influential physical computer concept, the marble answering machine—Pixel Track is essentially a flip-disc sign, like you might see on buses. Each "pixel" is a block that's dark on one side and light on the other. To "light" up, each cube simply turns.
Normally, flip-discs are controlled by electromagnets. Instead, Bishop has built a tiny train running on a track—connected to the Internet via Berg’s cloud platform—that uses solenoids to knock each pixel into place. Once each piece is flipped, Vanna White style, it can hold the image indefinitely at the expense of no additional energy. That beats an LED sign, which needs constant power to operate (though Berg says that there's probably not much of an energy savings over a classic electromagnetic display).
You could build these mechanical pixels out of almost anything—like wood or metal, for instance—allowing the aesthetic to fit in any setting. Plus, because there are no electronics in the sign itself, the system is infinitely expandable through low-tech means and could hang just about anywhere.
For Berg, the Pixel Track is core to its thesis about how the digital world of the Internet and the analog objects around us can be networked (many call this the Internet of Things). Having said that, Berg believes that, much like its Little Printer, the Pixel Track is something that could eventually be brought to market.
"This model is proof of concept, it's the first working prototype, and part of creating it is to discover the best way to take it to market," the team explains. "For us, this is a key part of the design process, a sort of ‘thinking through making.’ By releasing this proof of concept, we start conversations with property companies, architects, city planners, and so on, and we can uncover their needs and curiosity. So in some form, we're very interested in taking this to market—and ideally in partnership with someone who watches the video and spies an opportunity."
In the case of the Little Printer, the firm discovered its potential wasn’t as a cute desktop device, but as a smart, cloud-connected receipt system used by places such as restaurants. Berg only discovered this potential after the market saw its creation and came to them. Does Pixel Track have the same future awaiting it? That’s not a rhetorical question. They’re asking you.