Interactive Digital Signs Offer Extra Value During Pandemic

High-tech meets sustainability and functionality in the growing digital sign market. During the pandemic, digital signs everywhere lit up, offering valuable communications such as transportation schedules, real-time wait times for medical care, and vital public health messages.


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Image credit: Sensory Interactive

Digital signs have become part of our landscape. New York City’s Times Square is famous for them. We see them in shopping malls and transportation centers, though often in a static state. Now, with the increasing capabilities of IoT, interactive digital signs are popping up in even more places: restaurants, retail stores, city centers, and transportation hubs. 

They provide relevant information to customers in interesting ways. Now, they are becoming even more vital during the pandemic and recovery, where organizations are using them to provide real-time messaging such as building closures, wait times to enter, and updates to available (sought-after) inventory items.

The digital signage market is expected to increase from $20.8 billion in 2019 to $29.6 billion by 2024, growing annually at a rate of 7.3 percent. The retail industry is the largest user of digital signs, but public transportation is expected to present the largest growth opportunity. Transportation centers require large screen displays, and they often are integrated with other technologies, such as databases for reservations and travel schedules.  

Digital sign shares travel information for essential workers

Image credit: MTA, New York City

Technical advancements are propelling the adoption of large-scale digital signage. On the hardware side, increased use of LCD, LED, and Organic LED (OLED) display systems and demand for 4K and 8K displays are driving adoption. Components with built-in IoT capabilities make development less cumbersome. On the software side, innovative solutions such as the Intel® Open Pluggable Specification (OPS) have helped standardize the design of digitized marketing. 

Engage, Entertain, and Inform

Today’s digital signs offer dynamic multimedia content that can incorporate audio, video, animation, and touch-screen capabilities for a unique and customizable customer experience. Some digital signs even offer aroma-emitting capabilities, while others have heat-sensing capabilities to monitor human traffic patterns.

Scent is one of the most powerful senses, and it’s long been used in HVAC systems to bring a topical feel inside a hotel lobby or to encourage gamblers to stay in the casino. As marketers aim to boost sensory experiences, the technology is now emerging in digital signage. Global advertiser JCDecaux has created large, flat-panel cubes that feature images, audio, and related scents to promote the MIXC shopping center in Shanghai. One multimedia display shows images of the forest, while visitors can also smell the grass and hear birds chirping. 

Image credit: JcDecaux

Public transportation centers use digital signage to capture the eyeballs of passersby and to provide real-time location and traveler information and advertising. Interactive displays and beacons are user-friendly and efficient. They provide timely updates, notifications, departure and arrival information, schedules, and wayfinding to enhance the customer experience, which is driving the growth in the transportation sector.

Public Safety During the Pandemic

With today’s shelter-in-place orders, digital signs can be a great way to reach customers. Watchfire, a digital sign manufacturer based in Danville, Ill., offers several suggestions to engage customers who may now have limited access to buildings:

  • Restaurants can thank customers for their patronage and for supporting their workers. 
  • Medical facilities can display triage information, wait times, and FAQs. 
  • Transit centers can post revised schedules, new procedures, and sanitization efforts.
  • Churches and places of worship and meditation can post spiritual messages or future schedules outside. When services resume, indoor digital signs can provide a contactless replacement for hymnals or shared reading books or handouts.
  • Stores can post sale items, purchase limits, and inventory information.

Organizations may also want digital signs to post general messages that offer tips to reduce the spread of infection, encouraging people to wear face masks or wash their hands. Even after the restrictions are lifted, companies can display messages that indicate how they are addressing COVID-19 concerns. For example, a sign stating “we disinfect every hour” that also lists the real-time minutes since the last in-store cleaning can ease concerns as people venture regularly into stores and restaurants.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

A Sustainable Transit Center

Tucked inside San Francisco’s Salesforce Transit Center is an example of how digital signage can be used to provide real-time information to customers. The center, which opened in 2018,  will ultimately link 11 regional, state, and national transportation systems within its white steel structure. The airy structure includes retail shopping, a Grand Hall with banks of digital signs, a bus deck with Bluetooth beacons, and will accommodate a future high-speed rail service linking Northern and Southern California. 

The open-air, five-acre rooftop also contains a public park with a 1,000-person amphitheater, cafes, green space, paved paths, and a playground. While community gatherings and activities were suspended during the pandemic, the park itself remained open to the public during the day. .

The city teamed with Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, Sensory Interactive, and WSP to build a fully functional transportation center utilizing cutting edge technologies and with an eye toward sustainability. The building contains a geothermal system, underground tides, a ground loop heat exchanger, long-term thermal storage, and short-term rain and gray water systems. An energy-efficient natural light system brings natural light from the rooftop park to the lower levels of the station, and a dynamic lighting system adjusts lighting accordingly. The eco-friendly systems are expected to lower annual energy consumption by about 35 percent.

In addition, the transit center employs some impressive technological features. More than 270 intelligent digital displays offer wayfinding, transit, and building information. The Grand Hall has a 20-foot x 30-foot digital display with an integrated platform that provides real-time transportation and visitor information, notifications, and messaging. Bluetooth kiosks and digital signs are tied to mobile apps for up-to-date notifications, and personalized information. Visitors can use apps to find routes and explore transit options, gain wireless access at ticket gates, and purchase tickets, food, and other items.

On the operational side, the transit center uses a converged, IP-based intelligent building network to ensure the building data is secure and protected. Location-aware technology throughout the building is integrated with emergency communication systems to improve public safety and improve operational efficiencies. The system can gather visitor data to help determine staffing needs, send emergency notifications, and shift traffic patterns to alleviate congestion. The system also monitors some of the green aspects of the structure.

As experienced by the thousands of visitors to the Salesforce Transit Center, digital signs are no longer used simply to post an ad or travel schedule. They deliver new types of personalized, customizable content that engages, informs, and entertains visitors, and keeps them coming back for more.

  • Learn more about the Intel® Smart Display Module (Intel® SDM) and the Intel® Smart Visual Data Device Module here.
  • Find out more about the Open Pluggable Specifications developed by Intel here.


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