Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Linda Van Hoosen, Communications
It’s comforting to arrive somewhere you’ve never been and see a kiosk ready to provide you with current information on where you are and where you need to be. It’s the general concept of most kiosks. The same feeling of comfort will soon greet travelers along I-80 in Nebraska. Over the past two years, Olsson Associates has developed travel kiosks for the Nebraska Department of Roads (NDOR) that will initially be deployed in 12 rest areas along I-80.
The project actually began more than five years ago, when NDOR received a federal grant to display Amber Alerts more efficiently to the public. As of now, travelers on I-80 see Amber Alerts and other travel-related information on the I-80 overhead dynamic message signs (DMS), as well as on the NDOR website. Through this grant, NDOR wanted to also convey this information to travelers in rest areas.
“Rather than developing an interactive, touchscreen kiosk, which is both more expensive and less reliable, we developed something simple and reliable,” Technology Practice Group Leader Steve Ingracia said. “The less expensive these are, the more kiosks NDOR can get installed within their budget. We also utilized an off-the-shelf DMS for Amber Alerts so that NDOR wouldn’t have to modify their software to control the DMS. Given a limited budget, NDOR wanted to place a kiosk in as many rest areas as possible, and this kind of simplicity allowed them to maximize their budget while still meeting their project objectives.
"We talked to each of the NDOR districts and found out what people wanted to see and what kind of information would be important to them,” he said. “We also found out which rest areas were most frequently visited and were therefore a higher priority for a kiosk.”
Steve said they found the most important information to put in the kiosk were weather radar and road conditions. The Nebraska Department of Tourism was also contacted, and they agreed to provide custom content for the kiosk to promote regional tourism. Greg Hudson, a programmer with Olsson’s IT group, wrote and tested the software for the kiosk, and the firm’s Ryan Klug and JC Pickering also helped with deploying the software and testing the complete kiosk systems.
Steve said the computer behind the kiosks reboots itself every day, which makes the system more reliable. The team also tested the software and operating system 24/7 for more than two months, proving its long-term stability before it was installed in the first rest area.
The kiosk display consists of a 50-inch LED TV mounted in a vandal-resistant enclosure. There’s also a security camera mounted inside for security purposes. The display is intended to be eye-catching. Olsson’s marketing team developed a color palette and font guide to maintain consistency. The screen is divided into four quadrants – looping. It also features a weather radar and custom weather stories provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The kiosk shows current road conditions and tourism information. Additionally, the display contains a QR code that directs travelers to the NDOR mobile site.