Seattle bus stops could get a high-tech makeover if New York-based Intersection gets its way. The company, which has rolled out thousands of communication kiosks in London and New York, is eyeing Seattle as new territory for its “Link” technology.
Intersection has replaced payphone stands, phone booths, and other existing or outdated infrastructure with tall, narrow mini-billboards offering WiFi, device charging, information, and data collection capabilities in other cities. Earlier this month, Intersection announced it will install Link devices throughout Philadelphia.
The Seattle Department of Transportation — which controls the city’s bus shelters — isn’t commenting on the Link program, but representatives from Intersection are scheduled to discuss their proposal at a Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce business issues forum this week.
At the forum, Intersection plans to talk about “their exciting new proposal to retrofit bus kiosks and phone booths in the city with free public wi-fi and digital screens,” said the Seattle Chamber in a message to members. “Their company has seen success using a similar model in New York City and London, and they are looking to Seattle as the third city to kick off their ‘smart city revolution.’ ”
Intersection declined to comment on the proposal to GeekWire. To add Link kiosks to bus stops, SDOT would need approval from the Seattle City Council.
The company already operates rail and bus ads in Seattle and the Eastside through exclusive partnerships with King County Metro and Sound Transit. Intersection also has an existing office in downtown Seattle.
Last week, Intersection announced a $150 million funding round, led by Graham Holdings. The new cash will help the company add new installations in cities across the U.S., including Seattle, according to TechCrunch.
Intersection has deep ties to Sidewalk Labs, the Google sister company aiming to solve urban challenges using technology. Sidewalk led a consortium of investors that acquired and merged two companies to form Intersection as an independent startup in 2015.
The investment in Intersection reflects Sidewalk’s larger goal to build technology into urban infrastructure and create smarter cities. Sidewalk recently found a big new sandbox on Toronto’s waterfront to test out the kind of technotopia Sidewalk has until now been experimenting with on a smaller scale.
If Intersection brings to Seattle the same kind of Link network that it operates in New York and London, the kiosks will offer free public WiFi, maps and traffic data, and other information throughout the city.
Those are noble goals but they come at a cost. The kiosks make money through advertising and some of the methods used by Intersection’s precursor landed the company in hot water. Titan Outdoor — one of the two companies that were merged to create Intersection — embedded tracking beacons in the New York phone booths where it sold ads. BuzzFeed discovered that the booths contained beacons that could be used to track the movements of passersby and push ads to mobile phones. New York had the beacons removed as a result of BuzzFeed’s coverage.
There isn’t a publicly available proposal to install Intersection’s Link kiosks in Seattle yet but the company’s website sounds bullish on the city.
“Seattle is a booming economic powerhouse with some of advertising’s most prized demographics,” the site says. “Home to Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks, and more, Seattleites have enormous purchasing power and rely extensively on the city’s transit systems.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify details of the Titan Outdoor phone booth beacons.