Installing kiosk system is no tea party

Installing kiosk system is no tea party

Boston systems team works to meet goal of rolling out 20 terminals by 2001

By Merry Mayer

Special to GCN

The city of Boston hit the streets last year with a program to put 20 interactive kiosks throughout the city at which residents could pay parking tickets, get a bus schedule or find the nearest Thai restaurant. The kiosks themselves have provided digital access to the public, officials said, but problems with connectivity and siting have hampered full deployment.


Boston's kiosks, which include touch-screen monitors, phones and printers, are connected via T1 lines to servers at City Hall.


Mayor Thomas Menino wanted 20 kiosks available by the end of last year. But since the city unveiled its first interactive kiosk last May, it has added only five others.

The remaining 14 probably won't all be in place by the end of this year either, city deputy chief information officer Jennifer Latchford said. The contract with vendor JCDecaux USA of New York will expire in December, and Boston will have to decide whether to continue with the kiosk system, called Boston i. 'I'm pretty sure it will,' Latchford said.

The 4-foot-6-inch kiosks include an extra- large, touch-screen monitor, two speakers, a credit card swipe, a phone handset and a thermal printer.

'We had an award-winning design predicated on a bunch of things, [including] a very large monitor and a specific motherboard,' Latchford said. But the manufacturer of the motherboard went out of business, requiring a change to the component structure. That caused some problems, and there have been others.

From the beginning, the system had occasional trouble with the voice over IP used for the mayor's hotline. Five of the kiosks have Cisco 1600 series routers that connect via IP to the Web.

A sixth kiosk in front of the main public library in Copley Square uses a digital subscriber line provided by Bell Atlantic Corp. The city plans to soon add asynchronous transfer mode and an OC-3 rate switch to connect to the Web. This eventually will be the standard for all the kiosks, Latchford said.

It is possible that the main platform will use DSL, Latchford said. 'We may just separate one as data and one as voice. That may work,' she said.

The kiosks are run from four servers connected via T1 lines in City Hall. Three of the servers are 500-MHz Pentium III Xeon Dell PowerEdge 4350s, each with an 8G hard drive and 512M of RAM. JCDecaux owns the servers, which provide administrative, security, routing and commercial content functions.

The city's content is provided using an eight-processor 400-MHz Pentium II Xeon Hitachi VisionBase 8880R, with a rackmount chassis that allows easy upgrades for CPUs, memory, disk, input/output and network subsystems. The server, which can handle more than 6,000 Web hits per day, also runs Boston's Web site, at www.CityofBoston.com.

All the servers run Microsoft Windows NT. The kiosks use NetKey, a wraparound software from Lexitech Inc. of Branford, Conn. NetKey transforms Web browsers into kiosk touch-screen mode, limiting the kiosk user's access to specific sites. City data is protected by a Pix Firewall from Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif.

The city also had site problems that hindered placing more kiosks. Officials wanted to place one along the Freedom Trail, on city-owned property. But the fact that they would have had to dig to put in the kiosk raised preservation issues, Latchford said. Another plan to place a kiosk in a post office stalled because of restrictions on when and where you can put something on federal property.

Interaction time

The kiosk initiative is a project of Mayor Menino, who wanted people to be able to interact with City Hall remotely at any hour, Latchford said. The kiosks enable the city to give users without home computers access to Boston's Web site, she said.

The kiosks' usefulness is difficult to quantify. The city has little more than anecdotal data on how much the kiosks are being used. ''''

'We had a vendor keeping a log, but we weren't satisfied with the information they were getting, so we need to revamp this,' Latchford said.

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