f you live in a big city, you’ve probably experienced the frustration of rushing to the subway only to realize—eventually—that it’s delayed and you would have been better off walking or taking the bus. What if there were digital screens mounted on street corners that warned you the subway was running late and directed you to other forms of transportation? And what if those screens also notified you of community events, listed daily pollution levels, and solicited your opinion on local government initiatives?
Such a scenario may soon be reality in London and New York. Both cities are replacing outdated phone booths with Wi-Fi kiosks that have embedded computing tablets, USB charging ports, keypads for making phone calls, and large screens that display relevant information to passersby. New York, which started installing its “LinkNYC” kiosks in 2016, currently has more than 900 activated across all five boroughs and plans to increase that number to 7,500. The U.K. just started erecting its “InLinkUK” kiosks in London and intends to deploy up to 1,000 across the country.
Today, people use the Links primarily to charge their smartphones, take advantage of the fast Wi-Fi, make Internet (VoIP) calls, and search for information about the weather and local restaurants. All these services are free to use, in part because the 10-foot-tall kiosks display ads that generate funds the cities share with the companies that designed and run the technology. These companies, which include Qualcomm and the telecom giant BT, pay for the Links’ installation and maintenance costs. They have estimated that the city of New York will earn more than half a billion dollars in revenue over 12 years from the LinkNYC partnership.
Intersection, which is funded by Alphabet, hopes they could someday guide autonomous vehicles, too.