Coolest Agency Product of the Day: This Reactive, Ready-to-Use, Modular Kinetic Display

Breakfast turns an old project into a new product

The inventors at Breakfast have been busy, and their newest toy is ready for market.

The Brooklyn-based agency and product design shop—once described as a team of "hardware hackers"—today is launching a flexible, standalone version of its electromagnetic dot-based billboard. The "Flip-Disc Display System" is a literally titled out-of-the-box approach to kinetic signage, made of modular panels that can recreate images, video, text and more, all fed to it via an accompanying app.

A demo video shows some of the possible applications. You might feature an inspirational Neil deGrasse Tyson tweet, or watch a perfectly moody monochromatic video of the White Stripes, or even play a large-scale game of Space Invaders.

The design also includes an interactive component that responds to the movements of people passing in front of an attached 3-D camera. So, a man waving his arms might send the logo on the screen scattering as his silhouette passes across it. (Don't worry—it reforms once the intruder is gone).

It may seem familiar. Back in 2012, Breakfast created a similar design to help TNT promote a crime drama. But the new display, which the shop built from scratch as an off-the-shelf offering, differs in a number of ways, including, importantly, its adjustable build. Each display is actually composed of a number of 17-by-17-inch square panels that snap together, and can be arranged into a larger sign—32 of them could make an 11-by-5.5-foot rectangle, or a 17-inch-by-45-foot row (perhaps, say, if you wanted to track a consumer down a long airport walkway).

Other notable details on how it works: Each panel includes 784 half-inch plastic discs—essentially analog pixels—that flip between two differently colored sides to create the overall picture. The image renders at close to 30 frames-per-second. It's essentially a massively souped up version of the 1960s-era technology used in the destination displays on buses, preceding LED-based signs.

It's also intended to be easy to use, the idea being, Breakfast says, that anyone—not just programmers or designers or engineers—can beam or schedule information or images using the controller app.

Breakfast plans to ship the units starting in the spring. It's not the shop's first foray into developing its own intellectual property by merging software and hardware (a specialty it's also put to work for clients like Forever 21 and MLB). But it is perhaps its biggest.

Check out a Q&A below with chief creative officer Andrew Zolty for more about the company's shift away from a for-hire agency model toward selling its own IP, as well as the possible applications of the new flip-disc system for brands, and an update on Breakfast's other products.

AdFreak: Historically, you've done a lot of work-for-hire, building custom software-hardware combinations for brand partners. What are your goals for your business model in launching this flip-disc display as an out-of-the-box product?

Andrew Zolty: We've built some pretty amazing products, only for them to end up collecting dust after a few days of being out in the world. It's a waste of time, money, effort and technology.

The Flip-Disc Display perfectly illustrates the point. We created the first-ever super-speed and real-time flip-disc display four years ago with TNT. It got an amazing response, and ever since, brands have been reaching out for us to make them one. The first display simply wasn't designed to scale, and the business model wouldn't have worked. For years, though, we knew if we could redesign the system from scratch we could solve all those problems, and give the world a new piece of technology. That's what we're announcing here today.

In fact, this product started, at least partly, as a project for TNT, promoting one of the network's shows. Usually, brands end up owning the IP associated with their campaigns, even if those ideas were developed by an agency. How did you extricate your tech from that deal, to allow you to develop and market it as your own product?