Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff hosted a preview Thursday of six new, interactive digital kiosks that will be installed this and next month around the downtown area.
The 9-foot-tall kiosks feature two 55-inch touch screens which provide information on hundreds of points of interest, charge devices via USB, and provide a free Wi-Fi signal reaching around 250 feet. The kiosks comply with federal disability standards.
Bexar County purchased the CIVIQ WayPoint Smartscape kiosks in October last year at a total cost of about $600,000 including installation and software designed by the County. The County plans for the kiosks to be installed and operational by Sept. 1.
Josh Berglund, director of technical services at Massachusetts-based CIVIQ Smartscapes, introduced the kiosks, praising the County’s “dedication to crossing the digital divide and providing equitable services to the community.”
When not in use, the kiosks have a rolling series of static images advertising popular attractions in the city, some of which include QR codes which link to websites. Once the screen is activated by touch, a landing page appears with options to explore the County guide or have the kiosk take a photo of the user.
The County guide is a large interactive map, powered by Google Maps, with suggested categories, including parks, restaurants, government buildings and services, public transit, libraries, and recreational and professional sports areas. The map also has a search function for custom destinations not listed, like shopping destinations. Once a destination is chosen, a route is plotted which can then be send to a mobile device via email or text.
The photo feature activates a camera above the screen that will send a photo via email from the kiosk to the user.
While the kiosks are currently only in English, Spanish is coming soon in order to extend access to more residents and visitors, said Phillip Rico, IT project manger for Bexar County. This feature may be available by the time of installation.
The installation sites were chosen to “provide the best services for the citizens of the County,” Rico said, adding that the free Wi-Fi access in Main Plaza and around the City’s center that kiosks will increase the County’s Wi-Fi coverage by 3.66 miles.
“We thought this could be the start of something significant for the central city,” Wolff said, stressing the benefits for visitors as well as for locals.
“We’ve been behind the curve, but we’re fast catching up,” Wolff said, noting the success of the County’s digital public library BiblioTech – the first in the nation – and the recent influx of tech companies in San Antonio.
“So we keep looking for things that we can do that will move our city forward … if we could get connectivity in the central city, if we could make it easier for people when they come downtown … to find out what’s going on, what are points of interest, how can I get to them. I think it’s a great service for everybody.”
It’s possible that the County will install more kiosks after the trial run of the first six, he said, suggesting that other large public and private entities might install their own kiosks to increase the City’s interactive network.
“We’re hoping that as the years go by, the City of San Antonio, the Better Business Bureau, VIA, others will do something like this and begin to expand the scope of the free wifi and really put us on the front page of smart city,” said Wolff.
“I think it’s pushing us forward.”