New York City is hosting a contest to redesign, or just flat out replace, phone booths to make them more useful in a digital age. NY1's Adam Balkin filed the following report.
When was the last time you used a payphone? Can't remember? That's exactly why New York City is in the middle of its Reinvent Payphones Design Challenge in an effort to make them useful and relevant again.
"The goal of Reinvent Payphones is to collaborate with New York City residents and the public, urban planners, technologists to imagine the future of New York City's telephone and telecommunications infrastructure," says Rachel Haot, chief digital officer for New York City. "We got over 125 different submissions from all across the country, and we were able to narrow it down to 11."
Many of the finalists incorporated similar themes: some sort of internet access with touchscreens for information, or alert systems to warn or instruct the public during a crisis. Many are solar powered. Some incorporate bike racks.
A few went in totally different directions. One created by a student at Virginia Tech, called "NYC: The Official Experience", would make the booths digital tour guides. You walk from one to another, and they tell you what's around.
"You would use your smartphone to pick tours and get directions from payphone to payphone, but you could also do it all within the payphone's touchscreen," says Feild Craddock, a student at Virginia Tech.
Windchimes, out of NYU, are booths that collect all sorts of environmental data so that, for example, someone with asthma would know which areas to avoid on certain days because of poor air quality.
"The city could use these thousands of payphones as sources of information about local environmental conditions, such as weather, air pollution and noise levels," says Nick Wong of Team Windchimes.
The winners are not guaranteed to replace payphones any time in the near future. The city says the whole concept was designed more to give it ideas on what should be next.
"We will very closely analyze the feasibility with the expertise of various city agencies and identify what can we really do here to set the bar for the future and innovation of telecommunications in New York City," Haot says.
To check out the finalists and to vote on a Popular Choice winner, visit facebook.com/nycgov.