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June 25, 2015updated 20 Jul 2021 2:25pm

"Sidewalk Labs", Google's new urban startup, wants to turn phone boxes into wifi hubs

By Citymetric Staff

Man, Google has fingers in a lot of pies. Google Glass. Google Cars. Google wifi balloons. The list goes on. And now, the tech giant has turned its attention to urban life. 

Sidewalk Labs, launched earlier this month via Larry Page’s Google Plus page (bless), is the company’s new start-up “incubator”, which to the rest of us means it’s investigating and investing in ways technology can improve urban life. According to its website, the incubator aims

to foster the development of technology products, platforms and infrastructure that help improve life in cities around the world.

But let’s get to the interesting bit: the labs’ first project is to turn old pay phones in New York City into free wifi and phone charging hubs, with handy wayfinding maps stuck on for good measure. 

Here’s one now:

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The pay phone project, which we wrote about last year, is actually already underway under the remit of LinkNYC, but Sidewalk labs is hoping to scale it up and spread it across the whole city.


To do so, the start-up invested in two companies behind LinkNYC so the two could form a new, larger company which could roll out the hubs on a bigger scale. 

At the moment, smart cities projects tend to fall into two camps: large, Big Data-oriented projects run by companies like Cisco or IBM, and much smaller, citizen led projects, which are usually one-off installations. Sidewalk Labs could fit in a space somewhere between these polar opposites by helping along projects by smaller companies and bringing them to new locations. 

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