May 6th, 2013


Reinvent Payphones Design Challenge finalists exhibited their prototype ideas at the New Museum Ideas City StreetFest on May 4 on the Bowery in the Lower East Side. 

March 6th, 2013

The City of New York invites you to vote for your favorite prototype in the Reinvent Payphones Design Challenge. The design that receives the most online votes will receive the Popular Choice Award.

Cast your vote before March 15 via 

March 6th, 2013

Reinvent Payphones Winner: Beacon - Best Visual Design



Gently rising out of the sidewalk and topping out at nearly 12 feet, BEACON is a slender concrete and stainless steel structure enclosing a stack of indestructible LED matrix screens, similar to those found on Times Square billboards.

The upper screens function as digital signage, creating an ad-supported revenue stream that allows Beacon to provide its other functions free of charge. These screens also adapt to public events throughout our city, from NYC marathon mileage markers to themed banners, celebrating with the city during its many parades.

The lower screens are dedicated to New York City¹s local street life and communities, with hyper local advertising, community message boards, and of course, the telephone functionality. Controlled by your voice and gestures, Beacon is touch-free and hygienic, and is highly accessible. It uses directional microphones and noise canceling speakers to create the right acoustic environment for making phone calls, and an array of sensors to track gestures. Fire, Police, and Taxi are physical buttons, always at the ready to signal our needs direct to the city and via the colored light crown.

Beacon is also there for us in times of emergency, such as when we experienced Superstorm Sandy. The upper digital signage and the light crown on top give us clear instructions on how to respond during these events. Beacon becomes an information kiosk during times of emergency, providing updates on critical services, evacuation instructions, and directions to local shelters in multiple languages. Beacon¹s solar cells trickle charge an integrated battery, creating an uninterruptible power supply to update the information on a regular and consistent basis, even during a blackout.

Beacon is New York City¹s next generation open communications platform, connecting the city and its services with our communities, businesses, residents, and visitors. Beacon makes New York City more accessible, safer, healthier, greener, and better informed in our best of times and our most challenging.

Beacon was designed to connect New York City with New Yorkers, businesses and visitors. Beacon takes everything chaotic, colorful & loud about New York City and connects it back to us in an intelligent, purposeful & familiar way.


March 6th, 2013

Reinvent Payphones Winner: Smart Sidewalks - Best Functionality


Smart Sidewalks is driven by two competing aims: to pack as much function into a single device as possible and to reduce the phonebooth’s footprint.  “Everything” –communication, sustainability, and wayfinding is squeezed into “nothing” – a 6” wide interactive strip that folds up from the sidewalk.


The design works within the existing 5’ sidewalk grid and has two main components. The first lies flush with the ground, and introduces a combined sensor and display with storm runoff storage below. The second stands vertical and functions as a touch-screen, Wi-Fi hub, energy source, charging station, and a range of other functions. In short, a location tethered smart-phone. The bent form is shaped by accessibility, viewing angle, and optimal solar exposure.  A curb-cut bleeds storm water into storage cells dissipating it into existing soil. Sidewalk space is freed, putting to work the invisible space below.

click to see video


The user interface is concentrated on the front panel and includes touch screen, camera, and sound inputs. The screen vertically scrolls accommodating a range of user heights. On the side are a credit card swipe, speaker, and charger.  Built on the Android platform, existing apps are white listed by NYC and new ones are developed by third party vendors.  NYC’s urban specific apps could be accessed by an increasingly diverse range of publics: think of it as a 21st century library without walls.


While Smart Sidewalks can function as a stand-alone device, it also networks, charges, and augments existing mobile devices.  The 6” wide ground strip both conveys and gathers information.  Like a vehicular road counter, Smart Sidewalks passively tallies every wheelchair, child, and jogger 24/7. This massive nodal network senses wind speed, rain fall, temperature, and foot traffic with unprecedented granularity. In emergencies, Smart Sidewalks guides citizens away from danger to higher ground. Thinfrastructure is self-sustaining and can go off-grid when infrastructure fails.  As a publicly accessible database, information gathered from street-sides of NY will stand to fundamentally reshape the city.  With a single curb cut and a thin strip of technology NYC prepares for a changing climate, gives maximum functionality to the technological savvy, and lowers the digital divide.


March 6th, 2013

Reinvent Payphones Winner: NYFi - Best Connectivity


Reinventing the Payphone is not only about a sleeker design or a digital display, it is about radically re-imagining a public amenity: how it will be used, and what it will provide.  Unlike today’s payphone, the NYFi is an interactive portal to public information, goods, and services, a hub for free wireless internet access, and an open infrastructure for future applications.

The NYFi features two interfaces and a simple touch activates the height sensitive interactive zone on either face.  Two models of the NYFi are proposed: a ten foot model for commercial and manufacturing districts and a smaller model for residential and historic districts where payphones have not traditionally been permitted.  When not in use, the default display in commercial areas is interactive advertising and, in residential neighborhoods, way-finding and local interest posts.  Its narrow profile minimizes sidewalk obstruction and improves safety and storefront visibility.

As an all-around communications hub, the NYFi has every expanding uses due to an open software platform that takes advantage of apps already created for smartphones and tablets.  The combination of NYFi’s modular hardware and flexible software can replace the hodgepodge of single-function street appliances that currently litter the sidewalk such as bus ticket machines, Muni Meters, MetroCard machines, assistance kiosks, bicycle share stations and of course, payphones.  In this way, these nodes can be modified and upgraded over time to adapt to the changing needs of the city and take advantage of new technologies that will emerge.





March 6th, 2013

Reinvent Payphones Winner: NYC I/O: The Responsive City - Best in Community Impact



Control Group and Titan partnered to create NYC I/O— the transformation of the corner payphone into a digital node that will usher in a new era of The Responsive City. By updating the payphone with a modern array of sensors and displays to create a foundational input/output system for an open, urban-scale computing platform, we can allow New York City to respond to and serve the people. Through open access to real time data and a distribution platform for community, civic, arts and comercial apps and messaging, we can create a safer, more efficient, and more enjoyable city.

Check out our video.

NYC manages a telecommunications network of 11,412 public pay payphones throughout the five boroughs. Payphone use has decreased with mobile device adoption, but payphones still serve the communications needs of thousands of New Yorkers a day, especially in times of emergency. The City asked the tech and design community to reinvent New York City payphones to make our city more accessible, safer, healthier, and better informed.

Votes for us!


  • Create a full data network by using existing payphone infrastructure.
  • Make each payphone a primary input/output tool for interactive communication between the city and citizens
  • Make the software and hardware open and flexible to evolve over time to accomodate changes in technologies over time


February 22nd, 2013

Reinvent Payphones Design Challenge

Thank you to all those who submitted prototype designs to the Reinvent Payphones Challenge.  Due to an overwhelming number of entries, teams will be notified if they are selected to participate in the Demo Day by early next week.  Any questions, please contact

February 13th, 2013

Reinvent Payphones: Submit Your Prototype by Monday, Feb 18

A quick reminder that the submission period for the Reinvent Payphones Design Challenge closes on Monday, February 18 at 9AM EST. Digital images, documentation, or links to a virtual presentation are all welcome.  Please be sure to submit one proposal per team, and please identify all team members by name and email in the fields marked.   All team members must complete the Participant Release Form ( to complete the submission package.  

The Competition Judges will select up to 15 teams to demo at Quirky headquarters on Tuesday, March 5, 2013.  Selected entrants will be notified by email by February 22, 2013. 

Questions? Contact

February 1st, 2013


Check out the video of the Reinvent Payphones Information Session held on January 23, 2013. City officials from eight agencies answered participants’ questions ranging from redesigning public space, to providing amenities in City parks, to integrating with transportation furniture. Here are some key takeaways:

  •  For payphones to become an integral part of the city’s streetscape prototypes should integrate with other public infrastructure. Think about the overall urban environment, not just the object itself.
  • When reimagining the current payphone infrastructure, think about a range of user narratives – what are some current challenges and how could this infrastructure provide a solution? What is going to make people want to use the new amenities?
  • Think beyond the current payphone design. There are no size constraints for the Reinvent Payphones Design Challenge, but consider how the streetscape could be improved if new payphone kiosks had smaller footprints than the current infrastructure.
  • Think about how the city could provide new services, useful information, and communications technology while sustaining current revenues.
  •  Ensure prototypes are future-focused; consider the rapid pace of technological change.
  • Serve a range of users’-needs. Consider accessibility for all people, at all times, including during emergencies.
  • If submitting multi-faceted prototypes, think about the user experience and remember to keep it simple.

Submit your prototype at before 9AM EST on February 18, 2013 and you could help shape the future of New York City’s streets. Competition judges will select up to 15 semi-finalists to present at the Reinvent Payphones demo day on Tuesday, March 5, 2013. 

December 13th, 2012

How would you redesign New York City’s 11,412 payphones?   Share your ideas, join the challenge and submit your prototype by February 18, 2013.

Learn more about the City’s Reinvent Payphones Design Challenge at

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