A touch of glass: New digital sign helps direct visitors and keep them safe

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Visitors to University Support Building II (USB II) on Penn State’s University Park campus can now get a map of the building’s staff directory, shuttle schedule, to-the-minute emergency alerts and more with the touch of a virtual button, thanks to new digital signage in the building’s lobby.

The digital sign doesn’t look like a sign, at least not in the traditional sense. The screen is dynamic and interactive — news alerts scroll along the bottom while clickable buttons above lead to a staff directory than can show users the way to different offices and rooms. Information about the shuttle schedule and weather are displayed and updated regularly. 

The sign was installed in June, but Dave McCobin, IT manager in Penn State’s Telecommunications and Networking Services (TNS), began working on it more than a year ago after TNS leadership originated the idea.

McCobin gathered the requisite equipment and began a mock-up of the sign, getting support along the way from the University’s digital signage group. Software at Penn State also helped McCobin with purchasing and using Four Winds Interactive software, the system that manages the content displayed on the digital sign, and the Office of Physical Plant installed the power and mounted the frame and sign.

“We got a great amount of help from these groups,” McCobin says. “It was definitely a team effort.”

When it came time to create the digital map and directory, McCobin enlisted the help of Christian Irizarry, an IT consultant in TNS. 

Irizarry first took an AutoCad file (essentially a digital blueprint) of the building and used it to map the building’s floor plan. He then added the staff members’ offices, placing digital points where each employee works. But when it came time to enable wayfinding — part of the mapping system — the process got a little more complicated.

“Wayfinding is creating routes to show visitors how to get from where they are to where they want to go, and it was one of the more difficult parts of the project,” says Irizarry. “Luckily, we had lots of help to show us the best way to do it.”

Irizarry took advantage of digital signage training provided by Penn State’s Information Technology Services. The training walked him through the process of building a wayfinding map, and Irizarry says it was easier to create than he originally thought.

The map was mounted in the lobby of USB II and now offers assistance to staff and visitors entering or leaving the building. But not only is the map helpful in day-to-day navigation, but the sign could prove essential in an emergency. 

The digital sign is linked to PSUAlert, Penn State’s emergency alert system. In an emergency, the system can take control of the sign and display crucial information.

For example, the sign could display an alert about an impending weather emergency and whether people in the building need to take action. The sign also has a map of emergency exit routes that can be pulled up at any time, whether an emergency is happening or not.

The ability to quickly alert large groups of people about an emergency is one of the reasons digital signage has become popular at Penn State and across higher education. Not only are the signs more eye-catching and interactive, they’re also inexpensive and eco-friendly, saving money as well as ink and paper.

“Digital signage is great for the power it has to deliver a lot of information to a lot of people,” Irizarry says. “Most people are used to mobile technology being everywhere, so interactive technology like our sign is pretty intuitive. We want it to help people and give them the knowledge they need.”

For more IT stories at Penn State, visit http://news.it.psu.edu.

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Last Updated December 07, 2016