U Internet kiosk success prompts possible nationwide expansion

by Jessica Thompson

With the goal of making the Internet more accessible to students, staff and faculty members, the University has installed communications kiosks throughout campus.
The new $3,500 kiosks provide one-stop Internet access without the hassle of finding a computer lab. The instant popularity has spurred plans to market the product nationwide.
“We’ve been seeing a lot less traffic in the public labs, and it seems to be saving students a lot of time,” said kiosk communications manager Peter Obert.
Each kiosk, a wood cabinet adorned with the University’s maroon and gold colors, features an iMac computer with direct Ethernet access.
The kiosks are strategically placed based on convenience, accessibility and high traffic, said Shih-Pau Yen, who works in the Office of Information Technology and is the project’s main coordinator.
Yen compared the idea to a public phone booth, in that service is accessible to everybody. Unfortunately, this accessibility comes with the price of low security.
“There are security issues because we cannot control the kiosks,” Yen said.
Already two keyboards have been damaged due to spilled drinks. Others are concerned about e-mail and registration privacy.
One building has requested not to have a kiosk due to this lack of security.
The age of some of the campus buildings has also made the process more difficult.
“The hardest part of the operation is that a lot of the popular places where we want to install the kiosks are in old buildings where we have a lot of problems with wiring,” Obert said.
Overall, kiosk benefits far outweigh the problems, Yen said.
The kiosks are especially convenient for laptop users, who can connect their laptops directly to the Internet through any kiosk on campus, said Jerald Carlson, general manager of the Osvold Co. that manufactures the kiosks.
The kiosks were designed two years ago by the company and Yen, and the University is the first to use them, Carlson said.
Currently, about 90 kiosks are scattered throughout campus in 35 buildings. By 2001, the goal is to have kiosks in every building with a classroom, study area or student lounge, Yen said. By 2002, he plans to have kiosks in every building on campus.
So far, the reaction to the kiosks has been positive, Obert said.
University nursing sophomore Lori Carlson stopped to use one Wednesday afternoon.
“They’re very convenient between classes,” she said. “I don’t know where a lot of computer labs are, but the kiosks are very noticeable.”
The popularity of the kiosks at the University has led to plans to expand the idea elsewhere.
“The project has turned out to be very lucrative for (the University), and we’ve been given the OK to go forward with it,” Carlson said. “We hope to install these kiosks in different educational facilities throughout the country.”

Jessica Thompson welcomes comments at (612) 627-4070 x3232.