Digital Signage Illuminates Beckman Institute

An eye-catching digital sign recently installed in the east end of the Beckman Institute atrium is just the first stage in a plan to make information about the building’s spaces, events, people, and facilities easier to use and more efficient.

Some stand close and feel the warm glow emanating from the Beckman Institute’s new digital sign as they peruse its expansive, vivid display screen, while others take advantage of its touch screen interactive features and information. And whether people are just stopping by to gaze at this eye-catching new addition to the Institute’s atrium or using it to find out everything from how to get to a lab for a research experiment or to see if winter weather is headed our way, the digital sign has been a hit.   

Visitors as well as Beckman’s own can look up everything from the location of a researcher’s office, to upcoming events, to the bill of fare at the Beckman Café on the sign, located in the east wing of the atrium’s north side just outside the elevator lobby area. Many places on campus now have digital signage of one sort or another, but when Beckman’s entire project is completed, the building’s digital signage capabilities will be a model.

This is a work in progress. We’re constantly talking to people who are stopping at the digital signage and are telling us what they like, don’t like, and what they would like to see. It’s a nice process.
– Van Anderson

Beckman Associate Director Van Anderson said the prospect of adding a digital sign in the atrium had been in the planning stages for at least five years, but the technology to implement it only recently caught up with the plan. People looking for information had to use a kiosk, installed in 1994, which featured a CRT 17-inch touch screen monitor inside a vertical wooden display case.

“One of the things that was driving the move to get digital signage here at the Beckman Institute was the kiosk,” Anderson said. “That was the information booth for people but it was so outdated; the information was old, the equipment was hard to maintain and basically at the end of its useful life.”

Anderson said they looked into switching out the kiosk several times over the past five years.

“Each time the technology just wasn’t there for what we really wanted to do,” he said. “We were just stumbling through with the old kiosk. What happened a year ago was that all of a sudden these new programs came out that can drive digital signage and were driving digital signage on the rest of campus. There were two programs in particular, one that would help us with space reservations and one for the format for the whole digital signage technology that we needed. So everything caught up to where we wanted to be.”

Everything includes applications not only for the current display in the atrium but for more interactive digital signage in the future. Plans are for smaller digital signs to be located in the elevator lobby areas of all of Beckman’s five floors and basement. A third phase includes locating digital signs outside Beckman conference rooms that would not only let people know about upcoming meetings and seminars, but also allow them to schedule a future event.

But for now, the finishing touches are being put on the digital sign that made its atrium debut in September of 2009. The 70-inch monitor is an Akira modified screen that includes touch screen capabilities. It is powered by a PC and connected to the Internet for up-to-date information for its weather map and possibly other features in the future.

The sign currently boasts a host of features, including the date, time, a real-time weather map on what viewers see on the left side of the screen, and a Beckman News scroll at the bottom. In the center of the display is a sectional floor plan map of Beckman’s five floors and basement areas, with marked locations of Beckman offices, facilities, room blocks, and larger spaces such as the auditorium.

The right section of the display features two promotional announcement areas in the upper part touting events such as Beckman’s Director Seminars and the Beckman Café menu. The lower right section provides an interactive directory for looking up information on events, people, labs, services, and projects.

The touch screen directory allows users to look up a specific person or lab, with information on room and phone numbers and e-mail addresses. A wayfinding application allows users to touch the directory entry’s “Map it” icon and a path appears on the sectional map directing them to the location of a researcher, staff member, event, facility, or laboratory.

The software driving the digital signage was developed by Four Winds Interactive, a Denver-based company. After determining what hardware (sign and computer) would work best for the project, Beckman’s Information Technology Services acquired the equipment and set up all the required networking.

The content and display features viewers see on display in the atrium were designed by Beckman’s Communications Office using Interactive Digital Signage (iDS) software from Four Winds. The digital sign operates in much the same way as a web browser in that it is a multi-media platform that can be customized to display content and data. The atrium signage display is flexible and can be changed and updated.

Mike Smith, Associate Director for Operations at Beckman, said a half-dozen members of his staff were involved in installing the digital sign. Sheet metal workers constructed the metal casing for the monitor, which was connected to the network and electrical outlets using a “chase” or small access room located behind the brick wall. Smith said holes for the wiring were drilled in the brick mortar rather than the brick to maintain the wall’s appearance.     

Smith said the sign’s location was chosen because that area of the atrium is a crossroads for foot traffic.

“People that are coming in from the east side going to the elevators are going to pass it and those coming from the south should run right into it,” he said. “The elevator lobby area is a central location.”

 Anderson said the project has required teamwork between several different Beckman units, and input from signage users.

“It’s been all of the administrative team working on this because everybody has a stake in it,” he said. “It’s also been building occupants who have had some of the great ideas. The little weather radar map was asked for by somebody who was looking at the digital signage in the atrium and asked ‘why can’t we have this?’

“This is a work in progress. We’re constantly talking to people who are stopping at the digital signage and are telling us what they like, don’t like and what they would like to see. It’s a nice process.”