Smart Kiosks Bring Communities Together

February 5, 2018 Erik Sherman

City life is busy—and so is city government.

Growing populations need better travel choices. Residents want easier access to businesses and government services. In an emergency, neighborhoods want instructions on how to respond. And people everywhere expect good cell phone coverage and convenient Wi-Fi access.

Connect People with Services

To meet these expectations, civic leaders must modernize delivery of services, information, and infrastructure. What's more, the solutions must be localized for the many different communities within a city.

These demands explain why smart city spending will see a compound annual growth rate of 17.7 percent through 2021, according to BCC Research.

“Communities have always had challenges with providing services efficiently and keeping people informed,” said Victoria Dower, Director of Marketing for Verizon Smart Communities. “We’re using new ways to find solutions.”

Case in point is the Verizon Digital Kiosk, a customizable hub built in collaboration with Intel (Figure 1). The kiosks allow communities to discover local businesses and events, connect to high-speed Wi-Fi, access emergency services, and engage in civic activity.

Figure 1. Verizon Digital Kiosk enables cities to support their citizens in important ways.

Each kiosk acts as a hub for the local community. At a transit station, for example, the kiosk could give travelers real-time schedule updates and help them project travel times. Once they reach their destination, travelers could use another kiosk to access rideshare and bikeshare programs, and get directions to local places of interest (with the information sent to a phone on request).

Or consider the possibilities in a town square. Visitors could learn about special offers from local businesses, learn about events that would bring them back to visit again, or even initiate purchases (such as buying event tickets) directly at the kiosk.

Upgraded Communications

The communications capabilities of the hub are also noteworthy. Gigabit Wi-Fi lets people access city services or get some work done while enjoying the local amenities—no more need for every local government office or business to offer its own Wi-Fi.

Plus, an incorporated cell tower provides strong mobile service quality. This is a boon for crowded urban environments, where tall buildings can wreak havoc with reception.

Each kiosk even has phone charging terminals for those times when battery life is lagging.

Safety First

The kiosks also offer built-in security capabilities. High-resolution cameras and environmental sensors let public security personnel monitor conditions around any kiosk. Vibrant lighting creates an oasis of safety around the kiosks, and backup power sources keep the kiosks running during an electrical outage.

The kiosks also enable emergency communications. Citizens can use the kiosks to contact emergency services, and the city can use the kiosks to broadcast emergency information.

The kiosk's broadcast capabilities go far beyond those of older technologies. Emergency alerts distributed by radio, television, or even mobile phone cannot anticipate a person’s specific location in a city, which reduces the utility of such alerts. For example, heavy rains might create risk of floods in certain neighborhoods and not others.

In contrast, kiosks can receive and relay the most appropriate warnings and instructions for their locations. Residents near one kiosk could be told to evacuate the area while people in a higher elevation could be told to stay home.

Customizable Services

In addition to the standard services, the kiosks support functional expansion through open application programming interfaces (APIs). These APIs enable integration of data and services from around the community.

For example, a city might deliver real-time bus and train schedules from its own resources. This data could be combined with information from taxi and rideshare services, as well as traffic conditions relayed from IoT sensors around the city. A traveler finally has an informed choice of transportation options, with estimated costs, to choose from.

At a public university, students could place orders with food purveyors that accepted the school’s meal plan and pick up dinner before settling in their rooms to study. Workers from local businesses on their way home could notify a parking garage that they wanted to pick up their cars.

In addition to extending services in previously impossible ways, kiosks become central data collection points. The devices can help planners better understand what services people find valuable. “We work closely with cities to continue to curate and refine the systems and use analytics and feedback to improve each round of improvement,” Dower said.

Running on Intel

Verizon has worked closely with Intel to make its kiosks a reality. As shown in Figure 2, an Intel® NUC acts as the heart of the system, providing the rugged performance to run the kiosk securely and reliably. Within the camera units, Intel FPGAs enable cutting-edge artificial intelligence, such as counting the number of people passing the kiosk or monitoring for hazardous conditions.

Figure 2. Verizon Digital Kiosk enables cities to support their citizens in important ways.

Beyond providing hardware, Intel has helped Verizon deepen its strategic visions for the kiosks and other IoT applications. “Intel is oftentimes consulted by cities regarding IoT,” said Dower, and as a result, the company has deep insights into the needs of smart cities.

An Open Door to the Present — and Future

One challenge faced with hardware-based services is the integration of later capabilities without device physical upgrades. But the power of the basic design combined with API support opens the doors to the future.

As modern information-based services are deployed with software and cloud implementation, cities can direct their kiosks to tap into innovative new services as they develop. The same customization and API support that serve initial installation also allow the city to embrace the future as well.

In addition, easy scalability of kiosk-based solutions means a city can start with a pilot plan, quickly and easily extend across the entire region, and keep pace with future urban growth and expansion.

Furthermore, cities can monitor and analyze data from kiosks and get feedback from the public to see which services are working as expected and which are not. “We work closely with cities to continue to curate and refine the systems,” Dower said.

Early feedback from cities has shown that the Verizon Digital Kiosk concept is an effective solution.

“What really excites them is that the kiosks have so much built into them and are so flexible in implementation,” Dower said. “We’re not forcing them to push information in a particular way. And the accompanying free Wi-Fi helps provides an important service without having to worry about connectivity.”

Advertising Revenue Subsidizes Costs

For all the flexibility and technical advantages, communities also find that the Verizon Digital Kiosk helps expanding services while defraying costs.

The display offers the ability to deliver targeted advertising, whether in static form or video, with built-in absolute location identification that provides an additional revenue stream. The advertising can cover significant portions of both installation costs and ongoing operational expenses.

Finding incremental revenue is critical at a time when budgets are pressured. A city or business or institution can pilot and roll out solutions while reducing any financial concerns.

And a network of contractors and third-party vendors is available for quick and effective deployments.

A New Solution to Old Problems

Cities have always faced challenges informing and serving their citizens. Modern kiosks go a long way toward solving these challenges. Not only do they provide a direct connection between government and citizen, they can also incorporate the vibrancy of the surrounding community to create a truly engaging experience.

It's easy to see why kiosks have become such a central technology for smart cities—and a central hub for local communities.

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