The split-flap display: For a certain generation of adventurer—really, every living generation up until computers ruined everything—it is the quintessential sound of travel. The boards, giant electro-mechanical devices that displayed destinations and departure information, were once common in airports and all but omnipresent in train stations. Their staccato metallic clicks alerted everyone in the station to crane their necks to the board for an update on travel plans, turning the simple act of waiting into a well-choreographed civic opera. Although there are a few boards still in operation, they are nostalgia pieces, as reassuringly twee as a Wes Anderson film.
But nostalgia is the necromancer of zombie technology, and so the split-flap display has again stumbled into our lives.
Vestaboard has unveiled prototypes of a split-flap board sized to fit in a home, office, or (who are we kidding) a pour-over coffee shop. It runs on a standard grounded outlet and can display up to 161 characters at a time over seven lines of modular flip units. Those characters (62 alphanumeric, and 8 of some other graphics, including dollar signs) can be set via the Vestaboard’s integrated Wi-Fi through an app, as well as through integration with Slack, Twitter, Google Calendar, Google Home, Snap, Alexa, and many other apps and services. If you prefer the inspirational to the informational, the board can also greet you with daily positive affirmations or Beatles lyrics.
When Vestaboard finally goes on sale—during the summer of 2019, says the company—it will be priced at a somewhat un-nostalgic $3,495, but eager early adopters can secure a spot in line for the deeply discounted price of $1,950, and take delivery a few months earlier, by reserving through the company’s website.