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Reflectinga Sign of the Times

November 01, 2001|Karen Kaplan

It's hard to imagine a product seemingly less in need of a technology overhaul than the humble street sign. But a Los Angeles start-up called Uniglobe Technology is hoping to revolutionize the way roads are labeled with its self-illuminating signs.

About 15 of the company's wedge-shaped signs are hanging above intersections in nine California cities, including Burbank, El Monte, Livermore and El Centro. An additional 90 signs are on order for sites in Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino and Imperial counties.

The plastic signs hardly look different from their light-bulb-powered counterparts with white lettering and a white border set against a green backdrop. But their tops are made of a special "prismatic sheeting" in a diamond grid pattern that captures ambient light. Reflectors stripped across the interior of the sign redirect about 80% of the light so that it can escape only through the letters.

During the day, sunlight is used to power the signs. At night, the ambient light is supplied by long-necked street lamps, already installed at intersections.

Robert Alvarado, Uniglobe's assistant director of marketing, says the self-illuminated signs cost $900 to $1,100 each, compared with $1,250 to $1,635 for traditional signs powered by bulbs. The bigger savings are in maintenance. Though light bulbs are only $2 each, it costs nearly $200 to send workers to change them. The self-illuminated signs can be left alone forever--or until the name of a street changes.

For George Envall, director of public works for South El Monte, the biggest savings will be in electricity costs. Though he says he'll have to turn up the wattage on the overhead safety light above the city's self-illuminating sign at the intersection of Peck Road and Rush Street, his overall electricity bill for street signs will drop by more than 90%.

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