Question Cheap "Billboard" for School Birthday Display

GodisanAtheist

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Nov 16, 2006
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The PTO is looking for a cheap display to show Birthdays and special events as you drive in to drop off your kids.

Doesn't even have to be LCD, just something programable (ideally durable) and about 2'x3' in size. The board will be wishing kids happy birthday or displaying a short message parents pay for.

Normally this would be a pretty straight forward thing to solve, but the kicker is there is no power at this location, the board would have to be powered entirely by solar (or some other alternative I havent thought of).

Any thoughts or suggestions for either displays or set-ups to make this work?
 

gdansk

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Feb 8, 2011
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I don't know if solar would work for most LCD.
There are outdoor IP67-rated eink displays in 32" or 42" diagonal designed for this purpose. But they're way too pricey.
 
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mindless1

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IDK, no power so solar + battery = not cheap just for the (weatherized?) power setup alone. You'd have the solar array and framework, charge controller/battery/inverter in a secure weatherproof box, then code compliant 120VAC running to the display. Wait. Why am I assuming it is outdoors? Solar panel mentioned, I suppose... It still needs to be safe/secure either way, considering general public exposure and especially kids around.

Traditionally this is done low tech. You take a white plastic sign and a box of letters then go out there and change them. There are multiple types at sign merchants. Example:


You don't mention the distance but if this is to be a permanent fixture and not terribly far away, then I'd consider buried mains wiring to it, like most places do if they want a powered sign long term. Solar panels need cleaned, batteries need replaced, vandals come along... less work in the long run.
 
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gorobei

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if it doesnt have to be seen at night you may want to look into E-ink displays. usually the power requirements are way less, it can come in additional colors to the base b&w, they can cover large sizes and be seen well in daylight. not sure if there is a built in feature for wireless control.
 
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GodisanAtheist

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It is outdoors and the beurocracy says no running power to the location.

The current system involves manually changing lettering on the sign and usually a PTO mom takes care of it but it's an extremely time consuming process.

The idea was to have something electronic and automated, and I warned the group that if they want something reliable, cheap, and good the engineer's triangle mandates that it kinda sucks at everything.

Anyhow, I'll take a look at e-ink displays. Something tells me we'll end up with a white board or sticker board instead...
 

DAPUNISHER

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If it is okay to be portable, grab a solar generator with 110v outlets and a 60-110w panel for a couple of $100. Buy a programmable LED sign with remote keyboard that plugs in. I doubt they want to spend between $1K and $2K though. Especially when they can get parents to do it as slave labor.
 
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GodisanAtheist

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If it is okay to be portable, grab a solar generator with 110v outlets and a 60-110w panel for a couple of $100. Buy a programmable LED sign with remote keyboard that plugs in. I doubt they want to spend between $1K and $2K though. Especially when they can get parents to do it as slave labor.

- Yep. Our PTO is reasonably competent, actually pay for the elementary school Science and Art program, but that really doesn't leave a lot of money on the table for something like a billboard parents pay $10 to have some sort of personalized message for their kid.

The more I look into this the more I realize the PTO president etc were thinking there was some sort of $100 option out there, but there really isn't.

Time to suggest strategies for making the sign as easy to manually update as possible, rather than trying to go digital with the various cost and requirement restrictions...
 

Red Squirrel

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Solar would be doable, I imagine the most critical is that it works during school hours and after that it matters less right? The tricky part though is whatever display you get needs to be BRIGHT. I think most regular TVs would not be bright enough if put outside.

LED matrix display would be the way to go but I don't imagine those are cheap at all. Or something like what they use for fast food menu displays at the drive thru.

Wonder if something like this could work?


I don't remember how much they said it cost though, I seem to remember it was not cheap. Instead of using a backlight it basically reflects the sun back, so the brighter the sun is the brighter the screen is, without using power.

Of course whatever you go with, you also need a solid plexiglass enclosure to protect from rain, snow, vandals etc. The enclosure alone might run a grand or more. And you also need two displays one for each side, unless they're ok with just one side.

With the price of copper now days, solar will probably end up being cheaper than running a wire + cost of labour to dig up everything etc. Figure around 1k or so for solar. Couple hundred watts in panels for say $300, charge controller, $200, battery, $200, and inverter, $300. Just rough estimates. Ideally some kind of circuit that shuts off the inverter if the battery voltage gets low as well, otherwise it will just beep very loudly for hours on end when the voltage gets low while killing the battery. Some inverters will eventually shut off and then require manual intervention to turn back on.

Come to think of it, this could be a good project for the science class and shop class to put together, if they are willing to do a DIY solution I would suggest they do that if they want to save money. Shop class can build the enclosure and science class can do all the solar stuff.
 

Ken g6

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Come to think of it, this could be a good project for the science class and shop class to put together, if they are willing to do a DIY solution I would suggest they do that if they want to save money. Shop class can build the enclosure and science class can do all the solar stuff.
That's an interesting idea. I went looking for different kinds of displays and came across the split-flap:


If the shop department has a CNC cutter, or maybe a 3D printer, the cost for the mechanical parts shouldn't be too high. It's extremely time-consuming to construct, but isn't that the short definition of a shop project? This one has electronics, which would be nice but expensive. I wonder if it would be faster or slower than the current board to set this with manual wheels?
 
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DAPUNISHER

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If it is an elementary school the kids helping is not going to be an option for anything electrical or power tool involved.

While we are spitballing though: The programmable LED boards with remote keyboard can be had for $600-$1000. The solar generator a couple of $100. Constructing a stand/holder probably a $100-$200 in materials. Maybe some of the parents could solicit local businesses to donate the money in exchange for a sponsorship banner that could be affixed to the sign holder? The biz/s gets advertising and good will and now you have an outdoor LED board that does everything you need using a keyboard. Lock up the Generator at night. Or even have the sign with wheels on one side so you can wheel it in too.
 
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LED matrix display would be the way to go but I don't imagine those are cheap at all.
OP could build it himself if he feels adventurous. Google shows plenty of online tutorials to do that and I don't think any serious programming would be involved in reading a file on a flash drive or memory card to display the message or other parameters to customize the message like time of the day etc. A small cellphone sized battery could probably power it for a week or more.
 
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Red Squirrel

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Yeah the LED matrix is something I could see being DIYable. An easy way would be to use addressable LED strips then space each strip the same distance as the LEDs are on the strips themselves so you end up with a matrix of LEDs. Could control it via a Raspberry Pi. It could run a FTP server that you drop the images on over wifi and a python script just cycles through the folder. Can either have 1 static display or have it cycle through like a slide show. Come to think of it this does sound like a fun project. I'm not sure if the school has a computer club or something but this could very well be something the students could help out with. Even at elementary level some kids can be pretty smart and think they do teach programming and electronics to kids now days right? We did not have any of that stuff back when I was in elementary but I do recall doing stuff with electricity. Batteries and light bulbs and such.
 
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sdifox

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Get a magnet billboard, put a light powered by Li-Ion battery bank. swap battery bank when necessary. Or solar porch light
 
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