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The Reinvent Payphones Design Challenge could change the way payphones are used in the Big Apple.

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Reinvent Payphone
Could this one day have WiFi or a touch screen? New York City is calling for new infrastructure prototypes in the Reinvent Payphones Design Challenge.
February 05, 2013 | by Jessica Camerato

Telephone booths were staples on city streets for years. Whether you needed to make a call or dial up 411, payphones were the lifeline to connect while on the go.

But those days seem like eons ago, and it is hard to remember what life was like before people had smartphones attached at their hip and a tablet within reach.

Amid the development of new technologies, phone booths got left behind. With over 11,000 public payphones throughout five boroughs, New York City is now looking to “reinvent” the structures and implement new ways to use them as means for communication and information.

The Reinvent Payphones Design Challenge is calling for technologists, urban planners, designers, students, architects, creators, and legal and policy experts to submit physical/virtual prototypes of new payphone infrastructures.

These won’t be your traditional, coin-operated phones, though. Nearly all of the payphone locations are being equipped with fiber connections and are becoming electrified, creating opportunities for touch screens, WiFi access, and mobile device charging.

Entrants are encouraged to consider the following factors: connectivity, design, community impact, sustainability, accessibility, and safety.

The deadline for online proposal submissions is February 18, 2013. Up to 15 semifinalists will demonstrate their prototypes to a panel of judges on March 5.

New York City is also exploring other pilot programs to test new services on current payphone infrastructures. These projects include digital advertising on Times Square phone kiosks, interactive touch screens around Union Square, and free public WiFi at 13 locations in the city.

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