Where I live, the sign tells me that there's no parking between midnight and 7 a.m. on the 1st to the 16th of the month, except for November to March when there is. No wonder the bulk of the parking tickets I get are from misreading the signs. Then there's the visual clutter. They are just ugly.

That’s why these new electronic street signs that were installed in Sydney, Australia, are so interesting. They are made with E-Ink, the stuff of Kindles and Nooks, which is readable in sunlight and uses 99 percent less power than LEDs. That’s because it is "bi-stable" — it only consumes power when it's changing from one color to the other, as if you were flipping a coin. It’s also reflective, not pumping out light like an LED does. So once the sign is set, it holds that message until it's changed.

Changing signs is expensive. According to Visionect, the company that built the Sydney signs, Los Angeles spent $9.5 million putting up 558,000 temporary parking restriction signs in a single year, "a strain on staff and resources that can be reduced by implementing permanent e-paper signs with content easily customizable via cellular networks."

sign for event Alas, for special event notices only. (Photo: Visionect)

The signs are not being used everywhere yet; the company told The Register that “the technology came about through staff who saw the potential of e-reader technology to display real time information about clearways to manage traffic flows during special events.” It’s still too expensive to use for every parking sign, which is a shame; they could do so much more.

sign in "L.A. Story"A wonderful new world of urban interaction. (Photo: 'L.A. Story' screen capture)

I'm reminded of Steve Martin’s wonderful movie, "L.A. Story," where the road signs offer all kinds of useful advice. This could be a start of a whole wonderful new world of urban interaction and communication.

Here's how the signs work:

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Lloyd Alter ( @lloydalter ) writes about smart (and dumb) tech with a side of design and a dash of boomer angst.