Digital solutions for the streets of Austin
Austin Tech Alliance

I love the subtitle of your article — “why Austin isn’t there, yet” and would love for it to become a mantra. Because once we identify that subtext, we identify the next steps. Once we identify the next steps, we identify how we’ll get it done.

When we at the City of Austin work on the Smart Cities Strategic Roadmap, we identify building blocks that need to be assembled to break down barriers and more rapidly make progress to seize opportunities. The identification of the barrier “it’s against the law” represents only one component of why Austin isn’t there yet. What are the others?

Building Blocks for Austin’s draft smart city strategic roadmap see more at this link.

To address the original article, Digital Solutions for the Streets of Austin — Benefits of Smart Kiosks and Why Austin Isn’t There Yet, to get to the point of being able to implement smart kiosks, I would first choose the building block of smart team and smart service, before the building block of smart policy. Assemble a team, and then figure out how to connect these kiosks to a problem worth solving, so that the kiosk offers a service to help people get what they really need from the city. Then, with that imperative, and that team, it becomes much easier to make modifications to the Downtown design standards that keep our streets looking awesome.

The reason that I put the components in this order is because some of the other challenges with smart kiosks. In the article The shuttering of those internet kiosks is another tale of two cities, the NY Post suggests that in a world of smart phones, we don’t really know how people will use the kiosks, and may not like the way that they do. The Archer Security Group advises on security concerns related to smart kiosks in their blog entry To people using smart city kiosks: “Be worried”. Neither of these issues are reasons not to do smart kiosks. They are the very reason why you put a smart team on the issue to work it in a focused, agile, user-centered and iterative manner to work the issue and bring forth the best value proposition. Installing a kiosk also involves digging up the streets and putting the kiosk in the best place, and then measuring the product and program to insure that its bringing value. Doing it by design helps us measure twice and cut once so we do not waste a lot of money.

I have yet to hear a super compelling problem that smart kiosks solve that our smart phones don’t already do for us. That is, until I started talking to an Austin music scene champion and advocate at the April 18 Smart Cities Readiness Workshop. “Hey Jennifer,” I asked her, “how might music and art venues downtown make use of a smart kiosk?” She looked thoughtful for a moment, and then suggested “If a kiosk could be used for this sector, the best case might be for routing audiences to venues.”

In my mind, a kiosk has to solve for something your phone cannot. (A 2015 survey of community technology use indicates that Austin’s internet access rate by cell phone is 75%, whereas the rate that listen to music via cell phone is 43%.) Even in the case where you use your phone to listen to music, your phone will help confirm what you already know, not what you do not (confirmation bias). Imagine walking downtown, having a hankering for live music, but being a visitor or an Austin newbie, you’re completely overwhelmed by the long list of bands in the Austin Chronicle. Plus sitting at home looking them all up on YouTube or SoundCloud takes a long, lonely time. Instead, as you leave happy hour, you wander upon a kiosk, which helps you serendipitously connect to the choices right around the corner that you had no idea speak to your music style. Then imagine as the kiosk program runs, we’re able to measure the increase in audience and sales at the music venues. And we’re able to see exactly what value those kiosks provide, and then can determine how best to scale the application.

Now THAT is a problem worth solving. Let’s plug smart cities capabilities into making Austin more Austin.

What other use cases can you think of? And who should be on that smart team to get us started?

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