The Next Wave Of Interactive Sidewalk Kiosks Will Sniff For Leaks And Log Traffic Jams

July 1, 2016 by Dave Haynes


hat tip to @thegreatgadsby for noticing this …

The tech publication Recode has a really interesting post up about how those interactive stations that are showing up on big city streets, replacing phone booths, are much more than information hubs with free Wi-Fi supported by digital OOH ads.

The product that Google-backed Sidewalk Labs is marketing is filled with sensors that will be be used to monitor, log and analyze urban life, and maybe even sniff out bombs or chemicals.

The documents obtained by a Recode writer “formed part of Sidewalk Labs’ pitch to cities participating in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge, show that Alphabet — Google’s parent company — wants to monitor pedestrian, bike and car traffic, track passing wireless devices, listen to street noise and use the kiosks’ built-in video cameras to identify abandoned packages. Each kiosk will also generate an estimated $30,000 a year for the company from digital advertising.”

“The Kiosk sensor platform will help address complex issues where real-time ground truth is needed: Understanding and measuring traffic congestion, identifying dangerous situations like gas leaks, monitoring air quality, and identifying quality of life issues like idling trucks,” says one promotional flyer. Recode obtained the documents under public records laws.

These kiosks are a bit different from the LinkNYC kiosks that have started appearing around New York’s boroughs, but there are direct ties. Sidewalk Labs formed a new company called Intersection to bring digital experiences into physical urban spaces, and its first product is LinkNYC. This all ties back to Google and Alphabet, Google’s parent company. The LinkNYC stations in New York do not have sensor suites.

What’s particularly interesting in the Recode piece is the look at the pitch to cities for putting this stuff in.


The documents obtained by Recode also spell out the financial benefits of installing Sidewalk’s kiosks. While the kiosks themselves would be supplied free of charge, cities would be responsible for the cost of installing them ($12,900 each) and connecting the gigabit internet optical fiber ($15,000). Cities would also contribute $5,000 per kiosk to a “warranty and hardware refresh fund,” presumably to allow for repairs and upgrades.

Along with these one-off costs, Sidewalk predicts that each kiosk would run up $1,440 in maintenance fees, $2,400 in power bills and a hefty $8,400 in fiber charges annually. The total first-year expenses for a city installing 100 kiosks would be more than $4.5 million.

If a city chooses to upgrade its kiosks to include advertising, however, the numbers look far more attractive. For a start, Sidewalk would finance the $23,000 cost per unit of installing twin 55-inch screens. It would also sell and place the ads, raising an estimated $60,000 per year from each kiosk. Sidewalk would keep half of this, giving the city annual revenues of $3 million from its fleet. If Sidewalk’s predictions are correct, the kiosks would pay for themselves in less than two years.

Even so, Sidewalk appears to be facing a tough sell. Rory McGuiness of Columbus’s Department of Development says, “We had meetings with Alphabet about the kiosks. There are some intriguing things about them, but there are also other companies that also have some very interesting kiosks. We have not signed any agreements yet.”

Whether it is Sidewalk’s kiosks or those of a rival that end up on the street corners of Columbus, two things seems certain. Urban Wi-Fi is about to get a whole lot faster and easier, and our cities a whole lot more connected.

Fascinating stuff, as it shows the hardware cost of outdoor displays is just one of a set of big costs associated with putting these units in place, and then maintaining them and providing high-speed ($700 a month).

On the flip side, a two-year ROI is compelling, even if three years is more likely based on the ups and downs of media placement revenues.

Worth a read.

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