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Vestaboard – A smart display to connect and inspire (vestaboard.com)
128 points by duck 12 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 73 comments





We worked on several split-flap art projects: mostly with sourced pieces…

We managed to get our hands on the old main display of the Zürich train station (a beast of 7 tonnes). Most of the elements aren’t alphanumeric but larger words with the destination and departure station names written entirely. The readability was excellent as the text was silkscreened on the PVC blades.

We reprogrammed it and created a choreography without altering the elements (we just measured the “width” of each word to be used as graphical elements) [1]

The new display in the station is now obviously LED based and has many graphical errors and a much sloppier layout (mimicking the old one). The worst part is that now 1/4 of the panel surface is dedicated to advertisement… [2]

[1] https://vimeo.com/224913612

[2] https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Zuerich_HB_tabellone...


RARARARA.. Brilliant. Such physicality and noise. I wish I could be there to experience it.

I live in the NYC metro area and PENN station changed their display in 2017.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/24/nyregion/penn-station-dep...

Looking for the date, I found this nice article about an Amtrak sign in Baltimore which was replaced in 2010:

https://www.baltimoresun.com/features/bs-xpm-2010-03-22-bal-...

_“In January, Penn Station said goodbye to the old sign - known as a Solari board after the Italian company that introduced the machines in the 1950s. Like so many other familiar inventions of the Industrial Age, the flip-flapping signboards are going the way of the steam engine in rail stations around the world…”_


To clarify: the split-flap elements used by the Swiss railway (SBB/CFF/FFS) were produced by Omega Electronics and had the controlling hardware embedded on each element, controlled via RS-485; the older Solaris needed an external controller that drove the stepper motors.

Assembly time-lapse at the museum [1]. The elements just slide into place… They can be pulled out for maintenance even when the display is running.

[1] https://vimeo.com/220072274


Amazing you could hot-swap it even back then. I guess being able to change single rows when new stations get added and other things was a must.

That’s not how they work: each row must be able to display the same information as it will slowly shift towards the top of the billboard.

To add a new station (not such a frequent event in Switzerland) you need to modify the blades of -each- element.


Wow, those sounds bring back memories of traveling Europe by train in the 80s. Is it just me or do I smell some stale urine and some pretzels?

Ah, MuDA! Too sad the place shut down before I ever had the chance to visit...

Ah, they had one of these at the Bern train station as well back when I was living in Switzerland (back in 2005-7). Lausanne already had an LED based one, it was kind of a luxury to have an analog display even back then.

[1] is awesome!

Fastmail has one of these in the entryway to our Philadelphia office. It's been a lot of fun playing with the API — so far, we've made an integration with our company's chatbot [1] to manage "board tokens" [2] which allow folks to post to it (without clobbering each other's designs); a web UI to create designs which can be posted using the bot; and a 'vesta show' command, which creates a composite image of each cell of the board to represent the current board state (e.g. [3]) so that our colleagues in Australia and elsewhere can participate.

It's a lot of fun!

[1] https://github.com/fastmail/synergy

[2] Token in the "arcade token" sense, not "authorization token"

[3] https://dev.joewoods.dev/img/vesta-show-20211124.png — note my sloppy normalization of the brightness of the cells


Just to second this…Joe has done lots of great work at Fastmail, but ‘vesta show’ might be my favorite.

This is really cool. I saw they emphasized that they were a winner of the "Red Dot Design Award" so I looked up the Red Dot award to find more cool products.

However, the Red Dot website shows 16,844 "winners" in the Product Design category over the past 10 years (Source: https://www.red-dot.org/search ).

Then I looked at their Fee Structure page, which shows registration costs betweene 300 and 650 Euros. You also have to send them the product (for free, of course). If you "win" you have to buy the 3950 Euro "Winner Package": https://www.red-dot.org/pd/participate

Not a bad business for them. Kind of funny to brag about this pay-to-play award on your website, though.


> Kind of funny to brag about this pay-to-play award on your website, though.

That is why the award exists.


According to their website, for the year 2020, only 1.2% of entries won the Red Dot Award. So perhaps, it's not that easy as paying the registration fee and winning one.

Thanks for sharing this. It really put things in perspective.

Unfortunately this is common for awards in Industrial Design.

I own one and here are my thoughts:

So far it has been an extremely reliable product that was fun to get some scripts running on. I use a raspberry pie with a cron job to update the board with the weather and my daily schedule. Board actually looks extremely repairable for each individual character, and have has no issues with reliability in ~6mo.

API currently is through a rest interface which they have promised to keep free despite charging for plugins shared through their a subscription model. They had promised a native/local API but I have not heard anything from that.

Overall would recommend but it falls in the tech art category for sure.


At this price, I wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot barge pole until local API is a reality.

If their servers shutdown and it becomes abandonware you want to be sure it's still functional when you're spending a little more than "toy money".


Agreed it is a solid risk. I want to spend some time with wireshark to see if I can get something of my own going until an official local api is released.

I take it the device has WiFi? It would be interesting to see what kind of controller hardware is inside.

> $2,850

Whoa. And they advertise putting this in your house for your family? You could buy multiple really nice TVs for that kind of money.


Not bad for an "art piece". We have plenty of art in the house and office that costs more than this, and they don't _do_ anything.

Hey, to each their own. I'd argue a decent painting does more than this product on an emotional level, though.

Plus it will keep it's value much much longer (not just $ value)


Jesus, no kidding. Only a two year warranty, too? For $3,000 USD you might think you'd get a little more for your money...

I was scrolling and thought I want one... now I don't :D

Sounds like a sweet corporate office buy at that price unfortunately. Cool tech art though!

How often can/should you update it? Can you use it as a clock?

I use it as an hourly clock but anymore than every half hour would be a miserable experience since it is far from silent.

Would love to get one. Would love to get one for almost 3kEUR? Ooof, I don't think so.

Devices that have some physicality to it are always super cool (flip dots). That also makes them very expensive. Super happy to see products like these though.


There's a weird scale thing. Lots of moving parts in a mechanical display? Expensive. Lots of microscopic parts that can only be assembled in a clean room by machines in special locations? Cheap. I guess it's only economy of scale that makes the difference, but still mind blowing.

I was looking at these the other day - in the process of browsing around the subject I found this maker-project to create custom ones:

https://github.com/scottbez1/splitflap


Let me know if you have any questions about the project or split-flaps in general!

I built a big one for a City of Palo Alto art festival recently which was a lot of work but really rewarding: https://youtu.be/g9EPabcxBsM

There were some comments about the Vestaboard cost elsewhere in this thread so I figured I'd mention, my raw BOM cost for that display (108 modules, 40 characters each) was about $2700, so I actually don't find their pricing that crazy when you consider what's happening mechanically inside the display. (short video from inside mine: https://youtu.be/4rBKxy0gwNI)

They're not completely comparable of course - my display was a one-off build without economies of scale from stamped or injection-molded parts, much larger physically, and I had substantial parts of it manufactured in the US - but generally there's just a lot of pieces that add up quickly in cost.


For me personally it was mostly idle curiosity of a "what would it take..." kind, but it's a very nice write up!

What use case does this try to solve for? “Connect and Inspire” sounds hand wavy, generous, and quite frankly cheesy. There are many ways to connect and inspire, and a board with many flipping pieces doesn’t sound like a solution.

This product sounds like it’s just a nostalgic gadget more than anything.


Looking at the site, the use case seems mostly "hip and happening company with too much money who want to display some text for all the office to see but think a cheap flatscreen tv looks too cheap".

I'm no hipster, and there is a non-zero amount of "charm" (or whatever you want to call it) in a display like this.

plat panel LED or LCD displays look like shit in bright environments; these would look amazing.


A less dismissive characterization might be that it's a piece of tech art.

I really don't think people are buying these because they have some text they desperately need to display...


Yes. I plan to put one in our house more as “tech art” than anything else.

i would love to have one in my office.

We raise money for political campaigns, could show in near real time how much we're raising. Maybe even show top campaigns or staff.

But that would buy a laptop, and most of our (relatively few) staff don't even come into our office anymore!

A large TV could maybe do both actual real time every second update and maybe splice in some news feed or something.

Alas it's just like seeing the amazing Apple monitor. Then look at price and think rationally; it's not worth it by how much money I make.


Blargh. I went to the site, saw what it was, immediately wanted one, clicked the "Shop" button, saw the price, sighed deeply, and closed the tab.

I can understand why it's so expensive, it just bums me out that I can't justify said expense.


> Order two Vestaboard displays and receive $400 off.

I saw that before my eyes located the price and I knew :-)


Don't worry, I think terminal would work poorly with it and even then 22x6 only? not too many

> “I am always very happy with the team from Vestaboard when we’re in touch.” Wolfgang Flörke, Germany

It is meant as a recommendation but I wonder why he in touch with them often? It should just work?


Huh, interesting; flip boards like these used to be all over things like train stations, but they had to replace them with screens (big challenge, they deal with extreme weather / temperatures) after the company that made and maintained them went under and they ran out of spare / replacement parts.

I wonder what's the maintenance cost on these, both in terms of time, money and skill required. 8448 flaps is a lot of moving parts.

Some years ago our local chapter of the CCC got hold of some old flipdot panels that originally hung over the Autobahn[0] and they've since been repurposed and with the help of other spaces improved for display, pics at [1] and you might have stumbled over them at the Chaos Communication Congress or other events.

They're actually pretty robust and most obvious malfunctions can be rejiggered manually and it's just one of the magnets.

But yes, the replacement parts are kinda finite unless another stash of old traffic sign hardware is discovered.

[0]: https://wiki.muc.ccc.de/flipdot:start#einfuehrung

[1]: https://wiki.muc.ccc.de/flipdot:start


Solari [0] was once one of the leading companies in this sector. Their boards were all over the place. They are struggling now to keep it up with the new technologies.

[0] https://www.solari.it/


We sourced some Solari alphanumeric split flap elements from the Roma termini train station… they are a beautiful piece of engineering!

I like it, but the price is simply too much for most personal uses. Post a news entry again when it is around €500-600, if ever.

You most likely don't want such a device at home: it likely makes quite a lot of noise, takes quite a lot of space, and is not really useful as an individual. Its use-case is more for a public/semi-public space, for a group of people to see.

I think you have not watched the presentation video and even the dedicated "use case" for home at their site. They are very much advertising for home use as well. https://www.vestaboard.com/home

They can market it for home, but that doesn't mean it's practical or useful in the real world

I can see rich people buying this as part of a high-end room decoration. Probably cheaper than a hand-done painting of the same size.

Oat Foundry is another company which makes split flap displays: https://www.oatfoundry.com/split-flap/

The split-flap board by Solari di Udine at the TWA Hotel at JFK is fantastic. The building was designed by the famous architect Eero Saarinen and opened in 1962.

http://blog.solarilineadesign.com/en/a-touch-of-italian-desi...


This looks beautiful. I love analog tile boards. My favorite greeted the students at NYU ITP every day, a wooden tile "mirror" by Daniel Rozin. https://youtu.be/kV8v2GKC8WA

>“With its feet on the ground but eyes affixed upward, the Vestaboard is a beautiful combination of past and future.”

I'm trying to find purchase information for the model with the feet because our walls are not very strong, I would like to have a standing support.


The font seems a little thin for what it is, no? It's hard to say for sure without seeing on in person, but I'd have probably picked something bolder.

I own one. No issues with readability. In fact I’d say it’s easier to read than most fonts. Online pictures don’t do it justice.

Is this programmable? Like you're going to change the text for this specific time frame and return to the original text after the programmed schedule?

I know three people who have these. They never let the kids near them, complain about the price. How to have fun with it?

I think the sound would get to me after a while.

At $2,850, it's a steal. Not!

While certainly beautiful, this type of needlessly contrived product is a waste of our natural resources. Buyers need to ask themselves is this a morally defensible use of resources, would and LCD be better would e-Ink be better or should we just go without.

Why stop there? Buyers should ask themselves if they need or want anything at all. The responsible course of action would be to buy and use nothing—after all, we wouldn’t want to accidentally pollute more than all the fossil fuel industry or something.

Well, this is a toy we are talking about, it's not something you _need_ by any stretch of the imagination.

You're right of course, but my point is that you can endlessly chastise people for buying things they do not strictly need under the guise of "not being wasteful" but it comes off as crotchety. Let people enjoy things.

Ultimately, anything above basic necessities (food, shelter, clean drinking water) are toys, or supporting the creation of toys.

Sadly we can't see that our want for fancy toys now will make food, clean water and shelter (a place to live not affected by heat, drought, flooding, forest fires, snowmageddon, etc) scarcer in the future.

It is a bit of a philosophical question: If the problem is our need for new toys, and stone-age style "bare necessities" living would perpetuate mankind indefinitely (or at least not cause extinction based on actions caused by mankind), would you want to live that kind of lifestyle and doom all future generations to that?

I mean, yes. I think you are trying to be ironic, but reduce, reuse, recycle is in that order for a reason.

What natural resources are being wasted, IYHO?



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