Talelight: The Digital Bumper Sticker Has Arrived

Talelight

A dozen years ago, I had this idea: a clear plastic enclosure and mounting brackets for your car so you could change bumper stickers whenever you wanted, and not end up wallpapering your trunk with all the important things you want to express. Yeah, I never went anywhere with that. But when an email about Talelight showed up in my inbox, I was immediately excited. The digital age had finally caught up with bumper stickers!

It makes sense, of course, that display technology has advanced to the point where this could work. And it’s not to say that other folks haven’t tried similar ideas in the past–like big fat LED screens mounted in rear windows. But the folks at Talelight really seem to have taken the idea, and the safety concerns, seriously.

The Talelight is pretty simple: it’s a ruggedized color LCD screen that will display a 1280 x 320 jpg image, which pretty much matches the size of a normal bumper sticker. You mount it to your car with some very robust 3M padded tape (I’m assured that it can be removed with a bit of effort, and it won’t affect the paint), and it connects to a 12v outlet in your car. You’ll have to run a cable from the side of the unit to the outlet; I ended up using a couple zip ties and a bit of duct tape to make that part work. Overall, it took me about 10 minutes to install.

It draws power from your car only while it’s on (no battery drain), and it has its own internal battery to act as a power buffer. It communicates with the app on your phone via Bluetooth. The screen has variable brightness that senses the ambient conditions, so if it’s sunny outside, it gets brighter, and if it’s dark outside, the screen doesn’t put out quite as much light.

Talelight at Night
The picture is a little blurry; the actual sticker is not.

Safety is a big issue when it comes to an idea like this. Many states have laws in place about flashing lights or signs on cars and what may be considered distracting to drivers. Talelight only allows static images, and at this point only allows them to be changed once every 5 minutes or longer: no animation, no animated gifs. You can store up to 25 digital stickers in the device, and rotate them based on time, schedule them for specific times/days, or call one up for immediate display.

The process for getting stickers onto the device is easy, but not without some controls, again for safety. You can purchase stickers on Talelight’s online store, or design your own if you have the graphics chops (which really isn’t hard at all). You do have to go through a submit/approve process on their website so they can be careful about trademarked or obscene images, but that usually takes between 10 minutes and a couple hours, depending on the time of day. You can also put your own stickers up for sale in their sticker store as a way to generate revenue.

Once you have stickers in your library on the Talelight website, you pick which ones you want on your device and schedule how they’ll display. Then, just go start up your car (the device only runs when the car is on), open the Talelight app (iOS and Android), and sync. That’s it!

And the device is pretty rugged. It’s light enough that, with the provided mounting tape, it really stays put, even with some rough driving. The port where the USB power cable plugs in is tightly-gasketed to prevent water intrusion; indeed, the Talelight folks claim it’s designed to IP 65 waterproof standards.

The bottom line for me is that this is a very cool gadget. I’ve always loved the idea of bumper stickers, but I hesitated using them because I was loath to either damage my car or be stuck (pun intended) with just one or two messages forever. This ameliorates both those concerns, and allows for a lot of creativity and immediacy. Think about loading a custom sticker every day after your favorite sports team wins. Or a new message each week about the TV show you follow fanatically. Or, ahem, political messages that are in tune with the news cycle. The Talelight truly brings auto-based personal messaging into the future.

Product: Talelight digital bumper sticker
Purchase: at Talelight.tech or Amazon
Price: $130

[Talelight provided a review sample for this story.]

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Ken is a husband and father from the San Francisco Bay Area, where he works as civil engineer. He became the Publisher of GeekDad in 2007, and the owner in 2010. He also wrote the NYT bestselling GeekDad series of project books for parents and kids to share.