IKE Smart City

An IKE smart kiosk in the sidewalk in San Antonio, Texas
One of the San Antonio, TX IKEs

What is a ‘Smart City’ anyway?

Having gone to the Smart Cities New York Conference in 2019, the short answer is: nobody really knows how to define a ‘smart city’ yet. The concept itself is too big. Is it purely technological? Is it based on process? Is it determined by average user internet speeds? These are legitimately all valid questions that have been asked about the definition of ‘smart city.’

What I can tell you is that if any city ever wants to be considered ‘smart,’ they must have accessible interactive interfaces by which citizens can communicate directly with the city and the city can respond. A city cannot be considered smart if it can’t adequately receive feedback and direction from all of its citizens (not just those more technologically equipped). Similarly, a city cannot be considered smart if it can’t quickly and carefully communicate to all of its citizens during times of urgency. Without those two things you will likely end up with a technological city that’s out of touch with its citizens or a city that’s moving in a direction its constituents don’t want. Efficient and accessible two-way communication is a prerequisite for any city to attain the distinction of “smart.”

This is where IKE really shines. IKE creates instantaneous, wireless, and fluid communication channels between a city and its residents. I won’t go deep into all of the features of IKE myself (check out the main site), but enabling cities to connect with their citizens was one of the most personally rewarding aspects of this project.

Now, I won’t say for a moment that large double-sided interactive kiosks with dual 65-inch all-weather light-sensitive touch screens are the only way that a city can reach this two-way communication objective…they aren’t. Cities should be constantly trying to find new ways to communicate with all of their citizens. What I am saying is that large double-sided interactive kiosks with dual 65-inch all-weather light-sensitive touch screens are a great step toward that objective and have proven to be extremely effective. People really enjoy using IKE and have found it to be a valuable platform for communication, entertainment, and way-finding. But enough of the sales pitch, let’s talk through some of the technical aspects of the product

A Unique Player in the Space

There are a lot of digital kiosks out there right now and they run the gamut: some made exclusively to collect parking fees, some made to check-in at large events / locations, some made to handle your fast-food orders, and some made entirely to display current transit data. Some are interactive (touchable), some have cameras for security, some offer additional services like WiFi. Overall there are just a lot of companies putting metal things into pavement and calling them digital and smart.

What differentiates IKE in this space isn’t directly the tech: it’s the team integration. The IKE team isn’t just software - it’s hardware, deployment, field support, and software all under one roof. IKE doesn’t outsource any of hardware, software, or support stages to third party companies and they take extremely high levels of responsibility over the platform as a whole. Since the same folks that design the physical components inside an IKE sit just a few feet from the software engineers and the deployment / field support teams, everyone across the platform can immediately jump in if a problem arises. It’s this agility that allows IKE to iterate on the product so quickly.

Indeed, the major unique benefit IKE gets from having deeply integrated teams is absurd agility. By working closely with each other, the software team is well versed in the technical aspects of an IKE that would otherwise be a black box. They’re able to write code that integrates deeper than typical developers do since they know exactly what hardware it’ll be operating on and the environment around it. This means that they can build the best features for a sidewalk-bound kiosk and roll them out quickly to the entire nation-wide fleet knowing they’ll perform exactly as expected. It also means that the kiosks have extremely high levels of consistency across units. When the in-house field teams go out daily to check kiosks in all of the host cities, uniform performance and reliability is always confirmed.

An IKE smart kiosk in the sidewalk in Baltimore, Maryland
One of the Baltimore, MD IKEs

Okay.. So How Does it Work?!

I can’t give too much away here, but here’s what I can tell you. IKE is a two-sided kiosk running large HD touchscreens on each side. Each side is its own isolated unit running a Linux distribution with a pre-configured embedded-Chromium-variant browser that points to our platform servers. The kiosk operates all of its real-time networking over an extremely high powered 4G LTE connection and all of the interface components and things you can see on the screen are part of a complex React application that gets shipped over the air. The kiosk also broadcasts free WiFi 24/7 relaying through the LTE data and offers an emergency call button that’s an isolated direct-connect system (with recording) to local emergency services. IKEs are rated and tested to withstand anything from Sahara-desert heat to Miami-style hurricanes and automatically adjust their ambient brightness to match the surrounding light so they can stay pleasing to the eye.

If all of that made sense and you’d like more info, call ‘em 😉