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The Split-Flap Pixel Array

Sean Fitzgerald

Repurposing an outmoded communications tool.



The Split-Flap Pixel Array is a kinetic sculpture inspired by the arrival / departure boards common to 20th century commuter railway travel. All across the world, these signs (known as Solari boards, after the Italian manufacturer Solari di Udine) are being replaced by cheaper and more efficient LED displays.

The project is a reaction to the decommissioning of these classics of electro-mechanical signage. It is an attempt to maintain the core mechanism, but to transform the purpose from pure functionality into pure aesthetics. In essence, the goal is to provide a place in the world for a technology that has outlived its usefulness.

Specifically, the project removes the burden of alpha-numeric communication from the individual panels, and reinterprets them as pixels in a bitmapped grid. The focus moves away from the blunt communication of the timetable towards the poetry of sound, color, and motion.

Background
MacMillan, Thomas. "So Long, Solari."New Haven Independent 10 Dec. 2009:
http://newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/so_long_solari/

Dresser, Michael. "At Penn Station, the sign no longer goes clackety-clack."Baltimore Sun, 22 Mar. 2010:
http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2010-03-22/features/bal-md.cm.sign22mar22_1_penn-station-clack-digital-age

Orson, Diane. "Train Station Board's Demise Is Sign Of The Times."NPR Weekend Edition Sunday 3 Jan. 2010:
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=122190224

Capellari, E. "REMOTE-CONTROLLED DISPLAY DEVICE FOR SELECTIVELY DISPLAYING SIGNS OR WORDS." Patent 3,501,761. 17 Mar. 1970.
http://www.google.com/patents?vid=3501761

Implementation
The project is made of a set of 4" MDF boxes, glued together on laser-cut box joints. The number of boxes is intended to be modular, but they are designed to be arranged in a grid.

Each has an internal 1/8" O.D. steel drive shaft, rotated by a stepper motor and custom laser cut Masonite gears. The flap-panels themselves are laser-cut 1/32" Vinyl, and are attached to the drive shaft via 16-hole laser cut Masonite spindles.

The steppers are Arduino actuated, and the control software was written in Processing.