Coca-Cola’s New 3D Times Square Sign Invokes Inceptionism


Coca-Cola has updated their sign in Times Square, and this one has a mesmerizing 3D aspect to it, giving the spooky feeling you get from watching buildings curl up into the sky in the movie, Inception. That 3D is created by breaking the sign up into a 68’x42′ matrix of 1760 LED screens that can be independently extended out toward the viewer and retracted again. Of course, we went hunting for implementation details.

Moving Cube Module
Moving Cube Module

On Coca-Cola’s webpage listing the partners involved in putting it together, Radius Displays is listed as responsible for sign design, fabrication, testing and installation support. Combing through their website was the first step. Sadly we found no detailed design documents or behind-the-scenes videos there. We did find one CAD drawing of a Moving Cube Module with a 28×28 matrix of LEDs. Assuming that’s accurate then overall there are 1,379,840 LEDs — try ordering that many off of eBay.

So the patent hunting came next, and that’s where we hit the jackpot. Read on to see the results and view the videos of the sign in action below.

The search turned up three patents by Coca-Cola that seem relevant, the most recent one being US 9,640,118 B2, Display devices, filed in January 2016 but published in May 2017. Clearly they’ve been working on this for a while. The link we’ve given is to the European Espacenet patent site because Google’s didn’t seem to have the drawings.

This patent of Coca-cola’s reads like a detailed overview of the Times Square sign. It has 35 figures that include the same actuator assembly as what we see in the CAD drawing from Radius Display’s website.  The patent runs the whole gamut from hardware to software, handling scaling issues and even content creation procedures.

Here are a few notable features mentioned in the patent, though we can’t guarantee they made it to the actual sign. The actuator assemblies are divided into modules, for example, modules can be made up of 5 rows of 5 assemblies. This is to make installation more efficient, and to better handle stresses due to weather. There’s also a physical locking mechanism to prevent the actuators from moving at all in case of extreme winds. Display on and movement of each assembly is done in a synchronous manner, supposedly ensuring that the resulting image is coherent before moving on to the next. As the patent’s Fig. 13 shown here illustrates, there’s a high level of parallelism used to manage all the actuators and screens. In the figure, Ethernet is used as the communication protocol but more options are given in the patent. And that’s just a small sample of what’s in the patent. It actually makes for quite a good read.

While Coca-Cola’s advertising video below shows many views of it, we’ve included a second video below by Radius Displays that focuses more on the sign and better shows it off we think.

This 3D sign should remind Hackaday readers of inFORM, MIT’s morphing table which we’d covered previously. Their video no longer works but you can find a different one on MIT’s page here.

Coca-Cola’s video: