Toronto gave its City Hall a digital facelift on Monday, unveiling a new interactive wayfinding station and a transit information display that could soon become commonplace at municipal buildings across the city.
Cllr. Denzil Minnan-Wong helped executives from two technology firms – one Calgary based, the other from south of the border – showcase their large digital kiosks that will be hard to miss to anyone strolling into the front foyer at 100 Queen Street West. Both screens represent a trial run that could lead to placement in more city-owned buildings after hearing public feedback, he says. “It’s important we continue to modernize city services so people can access them in an effective and accessible way.”
Minnan-Wong tapped away at the new digital wayfinding screen to look up the office of the city manager. Using an on-screen keyboard – much like a super-sized iPhone – he typed in the name and was then shown a map with directions on how to get there. An accessibility option also made the text larger and displayed a route avoiding stairs.
The new kiosk is a virtual concierge, says Scot Martin, chairman and co-CEO of Calgary-based YouRhere Interactive Directories.
“This greets you and tells you how to find what you’re looking for,” he says. “It does it in various languages and it does it for the mobility impaired.”
The touchscreen kiosk has a 55″ LED screen that’s built for industrial use. YouRhere typically relies on an Intel NUC for the computing power in its kiosks, and programs the user interface in HTML 5 or Flash. The kiosk is Internet-connected so YouRhere can manage it and update it based on its client’s needs. The Calgary-based company was founded about a decade ago and its kiosks are typically found in malls and retail stores.
Since the city retro-fitted a kiosk with a static sign that was already in its front foyer, the cost for the pilot project was just under $10,000, Martin says. If the city was interested in designing new structures with multiple screens, the cost for a new kiosk could be between $10,000 and $20,000.
“We wanted to make sure it was integrated into an existing place where public and staff are comfortable to go to for wayfinding,” says Joe Salvagio, project manager with facilities management.
The review period will include reviews to make sure that it meets the needs of citizens with special needs, he adds, and if it’s successful than the kiosks will be rolled out to civic centres and other major corporate buildings where city services are delivered. The budget that will include the wayfinding digital signage is to be approved by city council in 2016, and can’t be disclosed until then.
The new transit information display is all about useful information relevant to City Hall, says Ryan Croft, chief operating officer for Washington-based TransitScreen. It provides real-time information about buses and subways near City Hall. The display will be the second display the company has installed in Canada, and the first with a government body.
“The potential is to roll out in other municipal buildings,” he says. “There’s an added bit of concentrated effort now given the PanAm Games and problems with transportation.”
An accompanying TransitScreen app could be used by workers at City Hall as a way to check real-time information for their transit routes as well, Croft adds.
The software to run TransitScreen costs $5,000 upfront and there’s an ongoing cost to maintain the software, he says.