In my last post I mentioned my trip to New York. I hadn’t been to the city in awhile, so my ride in from the airport was my first encounter with the interactive systems built into New York’s cabs. I was very impressed, so I was pleasantly surprised that one of Sprint’s partners at the Technology Summit could explain to me all the technical details behind the deployment.
First, let me describe the user’s perspective.
When I climbed into the cab, I immediately noticed a touch screen built into the back of the front seat, so it was easily reachable from any position in the back seat. The screen had about a 9″ screen that was plenty big for the viewing distance in the cab. It had a credit card swipe built into it as a secure payment option.
The screen itself was generally split into three sections. (The picture at the right doesn’t perfectly match what I experienced.) The very top section was a collection of touch screen soft buttons for selecting content. The rest of the screen was split about 50/50, with the section on the right playing full motion video from a local news broadcast. After riding in the cab for about 20 minutes it became apparent that the content was repeating. At the very top of this video window was a banner ad that changed about every couple of minutes. These banner ads were interactive – clicking on them resulted in the advertiser’s content being brought up in the left pane. I didn’t follow any of these links far enough to see if they could result in transactions.
The left pane was for live interactive content. By default, this pane shows a map of the city, tracking the cab’s actual location. It would be really cool if the driver entered the destination and the passenger could track where they were relative to start and end points, but for now it just shows current location. Still cool. As mentioned above, clicking on a banner ad brings up the advertiser’s content in this pane. The previously mentioned content soft buttons also result in content being loaded into this left pane. Choices include weather, sports, business news, and Zagat’s content. I chose Sports to try it out and was presented with a list of headlines that I could click to read the news.
Given my normal white knuckle response to seeing my NYC driver weaving through traffic and construction, this device made my journey much more enjoyable!
Now let me tell the technology story behind the story.
At Sprint’s Technology Summit, I met the team from Walsh Wireless, a Sprint Business Solutions Partner (BSP) who has lots of experience with digital signage solutions integrating Sprint’s EV-DO network. They tell the complete story on their website, but here’s my shortened version.
The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission selected several vendors to deploy the interactive systems to the city’s 13,000 taxi cabs. Creative Mobile Technologies won the business for 5,000 vehicles, but they were facing some challenges with the wireless network deployment, so they turned to Walsh Wireless for help.
Here’s what’s built into that seat back to make it all work. Walsh Wireless solved the wide area connectivity with a standard Sprint EV-DO data card, but with additional engineering using amplifiers and high gain antennas to ensure consistent connectivity while moving rapidly through the city’s urban canyons. This is then used to provide the interactive content features, the credit card processing, and even a WiFi hotspot inside the cab. This hotspot had to be specially engineered to limit the reach and avoid interference between adjacent cabs. The video content is distributed three times a day and stored locally on a hard drive in the cab.
Now playing: Mark Heard – We Have Let Freedom Ring