Henry Grabar is a staff writer for Slate’s Moneybox and a former fellow at CityLab. He lives in New York.
One design firm's remedy for the ubiquitous touch screen.
For designers looking to incorporate the virtual realm into public space, the dominant approach in recent years has also been the simplest: add a touchscreen.
For the team at BREAKFAST, a Brooklyn-based firm on the hunt for better ways to connect the real and online worlds, the prevalence of screens represents a missed opportunity. "Everyone has learned to ignore them," says Andrew Zolty, BREAKFAST's creative director. The screen's versatility is unparalleled (and sometimes intimidating), but its novelty has faded, he argues.
Points, BREAKFAST's latest creation, embeds digital way-finding technology in the familiar shape of a signpost. In action, though, the sleek black aluminum body and rotating arms encrusted with 16,000 LEDs are anything but old-fashioned. With its location technology and scrolling text, Points is what a signpost might look like at Hogwarts.
BREAKFAST sees Points as a flashy, fun and useful addition to a concert, conference or other public event, pointing the way to various activities as they happen. Nine feet high and with a six-foot wingspan, Points can swing its three arms in any direction, changing their display on command. It can also handle a flow of geotagged information in real time, displaying, say, the latest Olympic event results as each race or game progresses. A panel on the post lets passersby choose between different display categories.
A video of a Points demo on the Brooklyn Heights promenade, posted last week, has already been viewed more than 100,000 times, and Zolty says BREAKFAST has received inquiries from cities, conferences, shopping centers, theme parks, and more from around the globe.
But don't get your hopes up to have Points in your kitchen, pointing the way to the afternoon activities of your three children. The cost of renting the device, which has been manufactured and fine-tuned over the past three years in BREAKFAST's workshop in Brooklyn, will start in the low five figures. At some point, if demand picks up, that price could drop and you might start seeing Points for sale.