Hey Bob! Bet You Could Use a Cocktail Right Now!

Think “smart cities” and you might think of that somewhat disturbing scene in Minority Report where video screens scan Tom Cruise’s eyeballs to hawk personalized ads from Lexus, The Gap and Guinness Beer. Well, that future may be a little closer than you think as several companies have recently started deploying feature-rich information kiosks and other “connected urban appliances” in large and small cities around the world. While none (so far) can recognize a particular pedestrian, their capabilities are still formidable.

Two kiosk programs that seem to be the furthest along are LinkNYC (operated by Qualcomm, CIVIQ Smartscapes and Intersection – a division of Google’s Sidewalk Labs) and Palo (developed by LQD who was recently acquired by Verizon). Both technologies and approaches are similar. Both offer free, high-speed WiFi, phone service and device charging. Both also offer access to maps, news, city services, directions and so on. And yes, all offer intelligently targeted, hyper-local advertising. LinkNYC is currently deployed in over 500 New York locations and is planning expansion into the UK. Palo kiosks are scheduled to go into pilot testing in the US in 2017.

Although there are certainly community benefits to having access to the internet and city services at every turn, it’s clear that ad-driven kiosks are just the tip of the iceberg. As more and more internet-connected kiosks are deployed, many companies and municipalities are starting to see beyond the ad revenue, focusing more on data collection and analysis that can increase efficiency and improve quality of life.

Flow (another Sidewalk Labs initiative) is hard at work on software that can leverage the kiosks and other connected urban appliances to make metropolitan travel easier and more sustainable. Using data they collect from kiosk sensors, they’re tackling urban transportation issues like city parking and studying trends to help vehicles and pedestrians move through cities more efficiently.

And then there’s the 30-kiosk program designed by Smart City Media which is scheduled for a downtown Washington, DC, rollout soon. While the Smart City Media information kiosks are not currently slated to provide free WiFi, they will be loaded with sensors that record noise levels, temperature, air quality, humidity and barometric pressure. Additionally, the kiosks will interface with sensors placed in nearby business district buildings to monitor energy and water usage, waste production and other information related to building occupancy.

Assuming all the data from projects like Sidewalk Labs, Smart City Media and others can be easily gathered and analyzed, it’s likely that cities and municipal governments may soon enter an era of unprecedented efficiency.

So, how does Universal Air Filter fit into the new cutting edge future of urban connectivity? Put simply, it’s dirty outside. Harsh urban environments require more filter changes, and in many instances, custom filter applications. Kiosks and appliances outfitted with internet-connected sensors will no doubt make our job a little easier as remote maintenance sensors can warn us if temperature, pressure or air flow is operating outside of normal parameters – a good sign that it’s time to replace some filters.

It’s hard to know whether all this hyper-targeted data about our movements and habits will be a good thing or a dystopian nightmare. It all sounds very exciting, but personally we’re not sure we need a talking sign on the sidewalk to tell us it’s time for a libation. We already know that.