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Derelict NYC Phone Booths Get Smart Makeover

NYC smart booths
New York City is launching a pilot program that will put Internet-enabled information touch-screens and surveillance cameras in old phone booths throughout the city. (Image credit: From "<A href="">City24x7 NYC Overview</a>" by City24x7nyc on YouTube)

If cell phones have rendered public phone booths obsolete, adding smartphone-like capabilities to the booths may bring them back. New York City-based media company City 24x7 is starting a pilot program in May that will install sophisticated Internet-enabled touch-screen machines in existing phone booths. "We think it's an innovative way of using existing street infrastructure," said Nicholas Sbordone, a spokesman for the city's Information Technology and Telecommunications department. 

Each 32-inch machine will display different content, depending on where it is. The machines will point users toward local restaurants, tourist attractions and deals at local businesses and warn them of nearby traffic snarls and subway changes, the New York Post reported. Just like city park signs and subway changes notices today, they'll use several languages. Beyond the features the Post mentioned, the screens will also have HD cameras and microphones, increasing city officials' surveying capabilities, according to City 24x7's website. 

The pilot program will start with 250 phone booths throughout New York's five boroughs, the Post reported. City officials are still deciding exactly where the devices will be, but they'll aim for high-traffic areas because they want people to use them, Sbordone told InnovationNewsDaily.

They are not sure yet exactly how they'll use the feeds from the device's cameras and mikes, according to Sbordone. "I think a lot of that is still to be determined," he said. "Once it launches, we will have an exact idea."

City 24x7 will install the machines at no cost to New York City, the Post reported. After the pilot program ends, if the city decides to keep and expand the phone booth machines, it will receive a 36 percent cut of ad revenues. 

Eventually, the touch-screen booths will let people make Skype calls, check email and connect to WiFi on their own devices, the Post said, but the machines will track searches. 

Also on the way are subway station kiosks, slightly smaller at 22 inches, that will let people buy Internet access and feature outlets so can charge their own devices, according to the Post.

This story was provided by InnovationNewsDaily, sister site to LiveScience. You can follow InnovationNewsDaily staff writer Francie Diep on Twitter @franciediep. Follow InnovationNewsDaily on Twitter @News_Innovation, or on Facebook.

Francie Diep