Thanks to smartphones, many of us have become accustomed to immediate access to information wherever and whenever we want it. But in century old underground tunnels, we not only lose access to the outside world, we also lose access to real-time information about the system we’re standing in. And those paper signs certainly can’t help us.
The New York City MTA selected Control Group to help close this gap by creating new digital touch points that provide real-time, relevant information even in the absence of GPS and wifi signals. Our network of “On-the-Go” kiosks are designed to deliver a better wayfinding experience for commuters and visitors, and a new media platform for mass engagement for advertisers.
The new touch-screen HD displays provide real-time information, including simple visual station directions with transfers and line alerts, countdown to train arrival, relevant service updates, and a digital content loop. Integrated with Qualcomm’s Gimbal beacons, our network of kiosks can also deliver contextually-relevant content direct to riders’ smartphones, providing ground-breaking new interactions between customers and advertisers. In the first half of 2014, ninety new installations will be placed at top New York City subway stations that service more than 2 million riders each day.
Building a communications system for the country’s most populous and diverse city isn’t easy. Riders of every age, across the spectrum of socioeconomic backgrounds, who speak hundreds of languages, all use the subway with varying degrees of familiarity.
For the MTA, the main objective for this deployment was to create a platform that provides the most relevant information to these diverse people in the most efficient way possible. This was based on a 2 major value propositions:
For riders: Provide real-time wayfinding and information on system status and nearby points of interest. To do this, we spent a month observing rider behaviors and found one common thread: everyone uses station maps the same way. They love to touch where they are and where they’re going. This insight became the guiding design principle behind the kiosks’ main wayfinding application.
For brands: Provide a digital advertising platform that reaches millions of customers each day. We took this a step further by integrating the kiosks with Gimbal beacons. Brands can now interact with customers through the touch screen display or engage those in proximity to the kiosks with contextually-relevant content via their smartphones.
Product Description & Timeframe:
As part of our agreement with the MTA, Control Group assumes all hardware, provided by Comark, and development costs in return for advertising revenue.
Work began in late March 2013 on a prototype in our office. We leveraged a constant stream of visitors to test and inform the design and development of the interface, built by a team of software developers, UX and graphic designers, and systems engineers. In June, we installed a prototype kiosk in the Bowling Green station to understand the environmental impact on the kiosk and capture real-world user feedback. We learned that people found parts of the design unintuitive and the thick screen arduous to use. The vibrations from the rumbling trains also affected the touch-screen’s accuracy.
With lessons learned from real-world testing, we tweaked the design, re-calibrated to account for vibrations, and switched to a lighter touch screen display. Now the experience is much more resemblant of a familiar (if giant) smartphone, while still maintaining the MTA’s indestructible standards. By December we were helping the MTA prepare station infrastructure and system data feeds.
By early February 2014, 18 kiosks went live at Grand Central.
For riders, the On-the-Go kiosks bring real-time train information right to their fingertips. One-touch wayfinding, by subway station or point of interest, streamlines the process for figuring out how to get where you want to go at that moment in time.
For the MTA, having the ability to provide real-time updates on disruptions and help customers navigate these changes more easily, increases both the efficiency of the system and value of their service. It also provides more opportunities for their advertising clients to engage with those customers more directly and relevantly.
Once fully deployed, our platform will be one of the largest networks of contextually aware digital out-of-home signage available to advertisers, enabling personalized communication to millions of people per day. After just a few weeks at Grand Central Station, we estimate that the kiosks generate 3 impressions per person, with more than 465,000 riders passing through that single station each weekday.