New York

Mayor Bloomberg calls upon techies to reinvent New York City’s payphones

With more than 11,000 payphones that need to be replaced by October 2014, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is tapping into the local tech community to come up with radical new payphone ideas.

Today at the New York Tech Meetup, NYC’s Chief Digital Officer Rachel Haot announced Reinvent Payphones, an initiative to collect virtual and physical prototypes for new payphones from the public.

“We want to invite your prototypes and help build something that could potentially impact the future of payphone infrastructure in NYC,” Haot said.

“We need to replace them, reinvent them, bring these things into the 21st century,” Bloomberg said in a cheeky pre-recorded video conversation with Haot.

In a world increasingly dominated by smartphones and tablets, it’s certainly easy to ignore the lowly payphone. But with such massive infrastructure already in place for NYC’s payphones, they’re also ripe for a complete revamp.

We’ve already seen the city experiment with touchscreens and Wi-Fi hotspots in payphones, but it seems the Mayor’s office is looking for even crazier ideas. “It doesn’t even have to look like a payphone,” Haot noted.

The city will choose up to 15 prototypes to be shown off at a Demo Day on March 5, 2013. The winner will be selected by a panel of judges, including Betaworks CEO John Borthwick, DoSomething CEO Nancy Lublin, Startup Box CEO Majora Carter, 3rd Ward CEO Jason Goodman, and Beth Novek, founder of the White House Open Government Initiative.

“[Payphones are] technologically the most valuable asset we have in the city, and it’d be wrong of us to replace one payphone with just another payphone,” said NYC’s chief information and innovation officer Rahul Merchant at the tech meetup.

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