Post Hero Image: man using a smart kiosk

A blog series with fresh thinking and new insight into how the IoT is shaping the digital future.

Have you ever been traveling home alone through a city at night and your cell phone dies, leaving you a little unnerved? Or waited in frustration for a bus or streetcar that broke down several stops back? Most of us have been in these situations — needing information or the ability to contact someone. Many cities are now solving these scenarios by developing smart kiosks and placing them in highly populated areas. These smart kiosks allow you to charge your phone, check real-time bus schedules, or even order a taxi home, and their capabilities are only growing.

The kiosks use IoT technology to seamlessly link users with connected devices and those devices with one another. Informed by a network of sensors that wirelessly capture and transmit data about the environment, including air and noise pollution, and traffic conditions – smart kiosks allow cities to provide accurate information to citizens and local city official alike even as that information constantly changes.

Cities all across the country are taking advantage of this technology and building smart kiosks to address unique needs of their residents. In Newark, city officials have partnered with leading tech companies and academics to build up to 50 kiosks to serve as electronic message boards, public interest browsers, and eventually data collection stations for traffic and weather. There are also plans to put tools in the kiosks that could help catch criminals or use scene recognition to detect potential terror threats. Kansas City is installing 25 kiosks that will give residents and visitors information (in multiple languages), such as real-time updates on when the next streetcar will arrive at a stop. These kiosks also help people access emergency care by calling 9-1-1. In Chicago, city planners are piloting both smart bus shelters as well as separate information kiosks with free Wi-Fi to provide charging stations, tourist information, weather and much more for people in transit.

The best part about these kiosks is they are free for all to use. Thus far, revenues from advertising fund all of the above projects, at no cost to the taxpayer. In fact, they even generate income that city councils can use to help improve local infrastructure.

As these kiosks pop up around the U.S., they improve residents’ daily commutes, visitors’ experiences, and offer real-time information to everyone, not just those with smart phones. However, to keep expanding the number of kiosks and their capabilities, our digital infrastructure needs to keep up. We need robust next generation networks built specifically to handle this surge of new technology. These new networks require new infrastructure throughout communities, including small cell antennas placed inconspicuously on structures to provide faster, more reliable broadband connections.  Fortunately, Congress has indicated it will pass an infrastructure bill this year to provide funding for our roads and bridges. Congressional leaders have also appropriately indicated that any bill will also include support for expanding broadband networks, because they represent critical infrastructure in the 21st century. Policymakers at the local level should also do their part to support investment in next generation networks by updating their zoning and permitting laws to remove local ordinances that unnecessarily can slow down the construction of these vital new networks.

The widespread success of these smart kiosks shows how each city can use IoT innovations to enhance their specific communities. But in order to facilitate these unique needs, our federal, state and local government officials need to do their part to help pave the way for the next generation of technology.