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'Smart Screens' to Provide City Data in New York

Can 250 high-def, touch-screen kiosks make New York City more user-friendly, personalized and safe?
December 26, 2012, 9am PST | Jessica Hsu
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"A central goal is to create a digital channel that will relay important messaging, rapidly and accurately, to the public," said Tom Touchet, CEO of City 24/7. The "smart screens" will not only broadcast local maps, real-time warnings, event notices, and public transit timetables, but also provide responsive communications with city emergency services. The kiosks are being installed in areas of decommissioned pay phone booths to tap into existing power lines, and they will have back-up batteries to last at least 24 hours if electric service fails. The first of these will go live around New York's Union Square by spring. Other sites will include major entryways like bus shelters and train stations.

"And they're the soul of versatility," adds Neal Peirce, "also broadcasting a WiFi signal that can be picked up by nearby smart phones, tables or laptop computers." Cities can use the kiosks' processing power and fiber network connections to boost their security systems and run video surveillance. This could be helpful in monitoring suspicious activity and allowing city emergency workers to see a 911 caller in the distressed setting. New York, "a leader in opening city data and applying new technology under Mayor Michael Bloomberg," is the first client, but City 24/7 is planning to install these kiosks in cities around the world. Peirce asks, "OK, one may say, all this new technology sounds intriguing, but is it just one more product being pushed onto cities by profit-focused partners?"

Well, the kiosks will carry ads in roughly 25 percent of the space, which means that cities, not only City 24/7 and Cisco, will also receive a share of revenue. Peirce also reasons that New York sees the smart screens as "an entrepreneurial opening to serve citizens as well as keeping the town competitive" and that Cisco "aims, beyond profits, to seek 'shared economies' that foster public-private partnerships that help cities around the world prosper and succeed." City 24/7's Touchet said, "We believe these advanced systems will help to inform, protect and revitalize cities and their neighborhoods." Profit motives may be part of the equation, concludes Peirce, "But I sense an almost contagious 'cities of the 21st century' enthusiasm pervading this experiment."

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Published on Friday, December 21, 2012 in The Citistates Group
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