Introducing Street Beacon

For thousands of years, beacons have been among the most important sources of information for communities, used to attract attention to an area, to provide information and navigation assistance, and to mark occasions and celebrate events.

Inspired by this age-old concept of the beacon, Street Beacon reimagines the NYC payphone network to provide different ways for people to engage with modern communications - walking down the street, at the Street Beacon kiosk, and on their own devices - all while maintaining an urban aesthetic that integrates into the environment and other City services, avoids clutter, and allows the average citizen to showcase art in an ever-evolving public art exhibit.

Try out the Street Beacon Demo for Washington Square Park Below

See Mobile App Demo See Kiosk Demo


The physical design of the installations is based on the concept that less is more: Street Beacon proposes fewer installations, placed in more strategic locations, that give people timely hyper-local information, integrate with other city services and enhance the urban landscape. Each installation includes an easily maintainable garden, integrated bike share, and embedded sensors that capture publicly usable environmental data (via an API). We believe the public should also be able to define the “look” of their landscape; thus each installation features a transparent LCD screen that showcases ever-changing art created by citizens.

Showcase: Street Beacon Physical Installation Design


Street Beacon’s core approach toward communications lies in providing relevant, real-time, hyper-local information. Each Street Beacon installation has a local feed that pulls data from numerous sources curated for the location. For example, if you’re in Washington Square Park, the feed tells you why there’s so much traffic on 6th Avenue, when the N train is arriving, emergency alerts, local news, and more. Each payphone location has its own Twitter handle serving up this feed of information, making it accessible in many formats.

The Beacon  Ways to use

On the fly

Pedestrians and drivers passing by see a physical ticker on top of each installation. This ticker only shows the highest priority information in the feed for people on the go.

On the kiosk

Each kiosk has a touch-screen device that not only serves up the full local feed, but powers the phone and shows other local information related to navigation, exploration, art, and activities. Learn more here.

Working feed for Washington Square Park

Via the Mobile Web

Because each Street Beacon has its own Twitter handle, users can follow that beacon’s feed on the Web. Street Beacon has an app that can follow "My Beacons", one or several beacons (for example, one by your home and one by your office), and connect you to the nearest beacon as you move around the city. So, if you’re from Brooklyn but currently in Harlem, the app connects you to the feed of information for that area, immediately giving you the most important information on what’s happening.

    The Kiosk

    Each installation will include wifi-enabled Android kiosks featuring integrated applications that allow citizens to explore the area, get active, learn more about local community initiatives, and create art for the installation’s LCDs (try it for yourself!). Android-based kiosks afford several advantages: 1. the city can easily integrate new services and initiatives and roll them out to all the kiosks much like updating a smartphone, 2. many handicap accessibility issues are dealt with in the operating system itself (such as speech-to-text, voice commands, height detection, etc.), and 3. in emergency situations, kiosks can go into “lockdown” and be fed real-time alerts that take over the entire screen.

    Click on each icon below for an example of app integrations. However, these are only examples -- because the Street Beacon installations are built on the Android platform, the City can continually create new applications and initiatives, hold public design challenges, and deploy to the entire network immediately (so its communication's strategy will be flexible and ever-evolving).

    API & App Showcase

    While Street Beacon provides a beacon of information to each local area, it is a two-way beacon that also gives information back to the broader world. The installations are all embedded with sensors to collect environmental data from across the city’s payphones. Street Beacon uses an API to make that data available to the public and technology community to build new and novel applications. See our API documentation here!

    Each payphone location has sensors that collect data on:

    • pollution levels
    • pollen levels
    • noise levels
    • amount of use
    • traffic levels
    • photos of the area

    App Showcase

    Million Trees NYC

    Million Trees NYC uses Street Beacon's real-time pollution data to help determine which areas to place emphasis on planting trees.


    Run Free uses pollution and pollen data to help runners map out routes that are easier on the lungs.

    Quiet Spots

    Quiet Spots taps into Street Beacon's noise level data to create a real-time "quiet" map for those seeking areas that are quieter.

    Less Traffic

    Less Traffic uses Street Beacon's traffic data to create maps that help drivers and taxis know which streets to avoid.

    Community & Accessibility

    Revenue & Community Projects

    By providing such a hyperlocally oriented service, there are compelling advertising opportunities for both local businesses and big brands: the Street Beacon installations will net the city at least $60-million a year, from in-feed advertising and sponsorships on the installation LCDs. While the initial investment and installation costs are estimated at $36-million, these costs will be recouped within 3 years of full operations. A portion of the revenue generated will be directed to causes determined by the Street Beacon users themselves.

    Accessible to all

    The SB installations are designed to be accessible to all people. For the visually impaired, voice commands can power the kiosk. For the hearing impaired, speech-to-text allows them to read a transcript of any sound interaction. The speech impaired are provided an interface with portable TTY devices. The SB installations can also detect height, and adjust the kiosk screen accrodingly to people in wheelchairs or with other restrictions. Finally, phones are important during emergencies, and therefere a traditional dial-pad with emergency button will always be next to the main touch screen.

    Communities Engaged Anew

    We believe the Street Beacon installations must be able to generate revenue that not only sustains the project, but also can contribute to other public projects. A portion of Street Beacon revenue will go toward community projects selected by the votes of people who interact with the Street Beacon. These projects are local and relevant to the improvement and enrichment of each community. Example projects can include park beautification, habitat for humanities, shelters for the homeless, animal shelters, drama festivals, and many more.