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New York City announces six ambitious finalists in payphone design challenge

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payphone finalist 2
payphone finalist 2

The City of New York this week announced the six finalists in its Reinvent Payphones challenge — an initiative that invites students, urban planners, and designers to propose their visions for the payphone of the future. The finalists were selected as winners in six different categories, and are now in the running for the Popular Choice Award, to be determined later this month.

Not surprisingly, interactive and digital features play a major role in most of the six designs, including NYC/IO, winner of the Community Impact category. Created by Control Group and Titan, the proposal calls for the city's phone booths to be replaced with high-tech kiosks, replete with transparent screens that pedestrians could use to not only make calls, but find restaurants, pay parking tickets, or surf the web.

Beacon, winner of the visual design category, is an equally interactive proposal, albeit one with a distinctly more towering aesthetic. Standing nearly 12 feet high, the design consists of several stacked LEDs encased within a steel structure. Its upper screens are devoted to digital ad space, while the lower displays provide portals to more locally focused content and telephone functionality. Users can control everything through voice or gesture, though emergency calls can be placed by pressing a physical button.

Taking a more environmental approach is Windchimes, winner of the community impact award. This tree-like design re-imagines the payphone system as a connected network of sensors, with each stand collecting data on rain levels, air quality metrics, and other environmental conditions. Its designers envision Windchimes as a way not only to raise awareness of the city's natural environment, but to refine the collection of meteorological data, as well.

Environmental concerns are also at the heart of NYC Loop, named Best in Creativity. The booth features a standard smart screen for placing calls, as well as piezoelectric pressure plates that convert kinetic energy into electricity, providing the structure with a "loop" of self-sustained power.

Rounding out the finalists are two rather different concepts: NYFi (winner of the connectivity category), and Smart Sidewalks (Best Functionality). The former calls for the development of two different models: a ten-foot model for commercial areas, and a smaller version for residential neighborhoods. The focus here is on wireless access, pure and simple, made available through two touch-activated interfaces that automatically align according to a user's height. The ultra-slim Smart Sidewalks, meanwhile, stacks its user interface within a narrow vertical column, as part of an effort to "reduce the literal and figurative fingerprint of the phone."

You can vote for the best design on the New York City Facebook page until March 15th. At the time of this writing, NYC I/O has jumped out to a slim lead, with more than 500 votes, but the competition is still young.