The City of the Future to Come with Phone Booths?

By Steve Anderson November 20, 2012

Admittedly, as technology goes, "phone booths" are about as retro as they come. But City 24/7 is set to be a bigger part of the operation than it likely wants to admit, as it began deploying a network of public information touchscreen billboard displays throughout New York City, making the outdoor information connection popular again.

They may not be phone booths in the classical sense, but the City 24/7 "SmartScreens" may remind more than a few people of them. The SmartScreens themselves are 32-inch LG displays with multi-touch capability, geared toward bringing New Yorkers – and of course, those just visiting – immediate access to shopping discounts, entertainment options, information about local landmarks, daily specials and more.

There will be a variety of mobile apps available through the SmartScreen system, and since the displays themselves are all outdoors, they've been specifically ruggedized against bad New York weather, complete with steel casings and ATM-grade screens, as well as backup battery power for power outages.

There are even several different options for support for those with disabilities, including headphone jacks for the hearing impaired, key-fob access for the vision impaired, and the ability to reposition screens to make them more accessible to those in wheelchairs.

The SmartScreen system is sufficiently easy to those with disabilities to earn it endorsements from both the National Federation of the Blind's New York chapter, as well as the Light House for the Blind.

Naturally, there’s advertising involved with these screens – those "local deals" are a good way for stores to get the word out, and any restaurant or entertainment venue would likely be honored, and sufficiently honored to pay for it in cash, to be featured in the "entertainment options" section – but even here, there's a charitable component, as City 24/7 plans to return a percentage of that revenue to local not-for-profits.

Some may balk, of course, at the idea of putting up tourism facilitation systems driven by advertising revenue after the recent impact of Hurricane Sandy on the New York area, but with a new source of revenue coming in, it's going to be the kind of thing that helps get the city back on its feet. The SmartScreen system can even be used to disseminate information about severe weather or the like, providing information about evacuations or how to respond to incoming hazards.

With the holidays coming up, there’s potential for a lot more tourism, so taking advantage of the influx is a good idea.

Calling them "phone booths" may be somewhat disingenuous, but these publicly-available communication devices, albeit somewhat one-sided communication, may very well be what New York needs to help get back up and running in the wake of one of the worst natural disasters it’s ever seen.

Edited by Braden Becker

Contributing TechZone360 Writer

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