GuerillaClock Could Save This City Thousands

They say necessity is the mother of invention. But if the thing you need has already been invented but is extremely expensive, another mother of invention might be budget overruns. That was the case when [klinstifen]’s local government decided to put in countdown clocks at bus stops, at a whopping $25,000 per clock. Thinking that was a little extreme, he decided to build his own with a much smaller price tag.

The project uses a Raspberry Pi Zero W as its core, and a 16×32 RGB LED matrix for a display. Some of the work is done already, since the bus system has an API that is readily available for use. The Pi receives the information about bus schedules through this API and, based on its location, is able to determine the next bus arrival time and display it on the LED matrix. With the custom 3D printed enclosure and all of the other material, the cost of each clock is only $100, more than two orders of magnitude less expensive.

Hopefully the local government takes a hint from [klinstifen] and decides to use a more sane solution. In the meantime, you might be able to build your own mass transit clock that you can use inside your own house, rather than at the train station, if you’re someone who has a hard time getting to the bus stop on time.

32 thoughts on “GuerillaClock Could Save This City Thousands

  1. The reason governments are charged much more than the normal price is to cover the inane levels of bureaucracy involved in each sale and of then the protection money that needs to be paid back to the government to be on their approved contractor list and than abiding by all the requirements for installation and then the changes to the goal posts because the person running the project screwed up.

    but other than that its a nice clock and well executed

    1. State government here supersede all councils building regulation where carparks should be formed instead they do as they please making, Also money avoids legislated installation rules yeah it’s not corrupt just costs more to change the rules they made, They sure know how to get paid for doing nothing.

    2. Not only that, but the time it takes every employee involved in the entire process is fully accounted for in the cost. Sure they’d be employed anyway, but the money it costs to employ them for that time will be part of the number. Also buying commercial, they’re paying for the fact that they can get support from the company.

  2. “Initially, guerillaClock was to incorporate a solar panel for it’s primary power source. As such it would need a backup battery, for cloudy days, so the case was designed around a 6600 mAh LiPo battery that was on hand. ”

    I’m sure durability in an outdoor environment year after year plays a role.

  3. Put it outside, and check if it’s still visible in sunlight. Leds need to be pretty bright for that to work.
    Next, put it in the rain. Making a water tight enclosure is also an extra challenge.
    Then, put it on a vibrating test platform. Road side equipment vibrates a lot due to trucks driving by, causing everything that isn’t perfectly secured to get lose.
    And then, put it in direct sunlight, during the summer, for days. Heat inside might get over 70C, causing component failure. Pretty sure the Pi isn’t high temperature range.
    After the summer, we get winter, -20C, good luck again, with a bit of luck your solder will hold and only your CPU will crash. With a bit of bad luck, solder joints won’t hold and components fall off. (Or, if you are lucky, in some locations it can get -35C)

    Guess what, I worked on road side equipment. That stuff isn’t easy, not just because of all the red-tape. Not saying 25k is a sane price. But remember that these are generally low volume products, that do require software modifications to integrate into whatever bus planning system the city has.

    1. Yep, it’s the same with industrial controls. They are probably including a survey of every bus stop to verify mounting arrangements, visibility, security, and connectivity, all to much higher standards than consumer equipment. $25K does sound a bit high but I can easily see mid to high four figures per clock being fair.

    2. HaD readers/writers sometimes tends to forget the difference with POC and industrial products when it comes to budget.
      How can we compare a Rpi+ugly 3D printed case, with a cast aluminium, waterproof, everything proof? The first might only work on your desk, for a year maximum (crash, reliability, API obsolescence, etc…) where the second will last decades outside.

      1. Oh, and I forgot salt. No idea on this guys location, but if it’s near any ocean, salt air will ruin EVERYTHING. I’ve seen equipment where they forgot a rubber seal in a connector near the ocean. Year later, whole device was ruined internally. While it was made to last 15 years, a single forgotten seal at a critical point render it useless. Expensive mistake.

    3. And lets not forget that this thing needs to be mantained, so there have to be people with training, cars, ladders, etc. Also, liability : who pays if some of those clocks fall over someone or someone´s car ?

      His city could make an experiment : as he states he can build it for a lot lower price, then contract with him for that price, but with all the requirements and duties, liabilities, quality, schedules, etc expected from the commercial version. Then lets see in a year how all of the thing works. Who knows, maybe it works well and then the model can be expanded to other uses or other cities ?.

    4. “Guess what, I worked on road side equipment. That stuff isn’t easy, not just because of all the red-tape. Not saying 25k is a sane price. But remember that these are generally low volume products, that do require software modifications to integrate into whatever bus planning system the city has.”…

      Wow I feel sorry for the poor bas…ds, only 25k per clock?! They must be doing it at a loss. Perhaps they make money on the updates ;-)

      1. Where in the reply did daid303 even imply that $25k per clock is was justified or too low? daid303 merely pointed out the obvious apples to oranges comparison of hobbyist level versus professional level equipment.

        What would be more interesting is if the city issued any specifications and if either solution meets them.

      2. I didn’t know the sale prices of our equipment at that job. Only the “unit” prices what we payed to have units build.
        It’s unclear in this story if the 25k is inc. or ex. things like installation and maintenance.

      1. Yup, that’s my guess. Through the API, this is what they say: “The schedule of trips serving a given stop or route (repeat: schedule, having nothing to do with the real-time data)”.

        I’m guessing the new clock system includes real-time data interaction to show what time the bus will actually get there, or at least how far behind/ahead the buses are running.

    5. Don’t forget drunk people or yobs hitting it.
      Also, the cost of Lipos that have passed some vague safety certification.
      And the cost of doing business with the public sector. They can be very inefficient to work with.

    6. Don’t forget about the abuse it will take when some drunkards are watching at 2am when it changes from “Arriving in 5 minutes” to “Bus Cancelled” … people will toss rocks at it, try to hang off of it, spray paint/paintball it, etc.

  4. Yes, the price is high, but there are a few factors to take into consideration, that have not been mentioned here.
    First of all, looking at the 25k price tag per unit, I have the feeling that this is the total price of the contract divided by the number of units installed; additionally the first contract is to evaluate the system, therefore the quantity of units will be quite low,lets say 10-20, and in this figure we must take into consideration the design cost (hardware and software), because local governments don’t tend to standardise on a national system; each city will create a new system for managing the schedules. Looking back to the 25k figure, and assuming a 20 unit contract, that will sum up to 500k, which will include non only the development and manufacturing of the prototypes, but also CE testing (EMI, and general safety of the product) or equivalent for the local regulations, then the installation (which might also include replacing the bus shelters with new ones), and obviously the support that comes after the product has been delivered).
    So this business that delivers the service, will also pay for a number of months, a dozen employees work on this, keep in mind that a business must make some profit,otherwise there is no reason for it to exist.

    All in all, putting in quite a few assumptions, 25k per unit can be an awful lot, but also a reasonable amount. We need some more background information on this story before judging.

  5. The traffic lights themselves are very likely already LED disk arrays. Why don’t the traffic lights have time count-down rings or even numbers embedded in them to begin with? Why do you need a separate count-down display in addition to the traffic lights themselves? The separate countdown displays just distract the drivers from the traffic lights in the first place. It’s better to have the drivers focused on the traffic lights for all information. So why not? It’s simple: More separate $25K a-pop displays translates to HUGE amounts of Graft money that goes to the “Infrastructure” obsessed Government and Labor Union officials. Or maybe Apple or Google “Patented” an all-in-one traffic light LED display via some corrupt and dysfunctional Government Patent Authority (USPTO anyone?)

    1. Huh ? Did you read the article and looked at the picture ? These are for bus stops, to tell the times and schedules of buses. No mention of traffic lights in this situation.

    2. Ignoring the fact that this isn’t something installed next to traffic lights, but for people waiting for a bus.

      Some traffic lights have count down numbers in them. Guess what, it’s more expensive. Why? Just to name a few, more cables. Cannot run data over the cable you use to power the lamp itself, as there are some quite strict requirements on the lamps, regulations and all.
      The LED lamps you see these days are a special bunch already. They are made to mimic the behavior of old incandescent lamps on an electrical level. Why? Regulations define the interaction between the lamps and the controller. It’s easier to get the lamps up to the incandescent regulations then to make new regulations for LED lights.

    1. Specifics aside, if someone falls from that stair will the builder take on the responsability and pay for their injuries ?

      By the way, he could have built steps in the dirt, that would have cost even less and wouldn´t get the mayor angry. But as someone had to call the press and make it newsworthy, that was sure to get the city politics irate with him.

  6. Maybe he should take a hint from https://hackaday.com/2018/04/21/fast-led-matrix-graphics-for-the-esp32/ and make it evem cheaper.

    There is nothing like a well designed product though. My City just introduced really nice countdown displays for the rural areas. They don’t even seem to need electricity. I think they run on a impossibly small and well hidden solar cell.
    They use (probably) bistable LCD and a miniscule LED backlight at night. Hooked up to the city wide RF network of the transport system.

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