LED signs may brighten ad revenue for buses

  • 29-Oct-2009 10:47 EDT
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LED signs can boost ad revenue by continuously changing ads to promote different products.

The LEDs that are transforming vehicle lighting are expanding into a new area: bus advertising. Lighted displays installed on buses can change messages often, even linking to GPS systems to pinpoint ads as buses travel into different neighborhoods.

Sign makers are employing LEDs to create signage that offers far more eye appeal and versatility than signboards or even whole-bus wraps. They are targeting transit operations and universities that have large bus fleets and income needs that are growing as states trim funding.

A new entrant, Multimedia LEDs, is offering a flat-panel LED scheme that it says provides low power and brightness needed for buses. Though the 31-year-old company has not previously targeted the transportation environment, it has already produced a number of LED-based signs that operate in fairly harsh outdoor conditions. A number of them are in New York’s Times Square, where they run nonstop.

LED suppliers are just beginning to focus on this segment of the advertising world. British supplier Litelogic is already testing the technology on 300 LED panels on buses in Chicago and New York. They are also tied to GPS so messages can be changed in different areas.

That GPS connection could provide important revenue opportunities for cash-strapped transit agencies. They can sell prime-time ads to large companies when viewership might be higher, charging extra to target regional messages.

“We can use GPS to change addresses for a chain like McDonald’s or convert to different languages as buses go through ethnic neighborhoods,” said Richard Stein, Director of Transit Products.

In late night hours, smaller local companies such as bail bondsmen could buy less expensive signs. The signs can also be used to display messages from bus owners. For example, colleges can remind students of deadlines or municipalities can provide traffic alerts, Stein said.

The brightness of LEDs should also help attract attention. To work in full sunlight, the Multimedia display generates 6000 nit, which is a measurement of the light output per square meter. At night, that can drop to 600 nit.

Powering and packaging the LEDs are critical aspects of design. “There are a lot of technical challenges; the signs are only about an inch thick,” said Matt Sanders, Lead Engineer at Multimedia. “They also have to be very power efficient so they don’t impact the power system of the bus.”

The LEDs are protected by a clear polycarbonate cover that is hard enough to hit with a hammer, Sanders said. Lifetime for the signs is expected to be around five years.

The power budget for the signs has to be around 12 kW or less. That is a challenge when LEDs must be bright enough to attract attention on a sunny day. These power supplies convert the vehicle’s 24-V output to the 5 V needed by the display. If there are power shortages or other power issues, the sign will dim or shut off.

Multimedia patented a cooling technique that lets it fit this fanless power conversion system into the flat sign. “That’s a big differentiator; other systems have large boxes that take up space on the bus, which is very hard to come by,” Sanders said.

The signs will cost from $30,000 to $40,000, Stein said. That price is for 8-mm LEDs that provide high resolution. Scaling down to 10-mm LEDs will save buyers around $10,000, he noted.

Multimedia plans to start shipping units in December, though no firm orders have yet been announced. Stein noted that while the U.S. will probably be the largest market, Latin America shows high potential.

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