Tired of waiting for a Kansas City streetcar? Pass the time playing solitaire — on the nearby Smart City kiosk.
That’s not what the kiosks are supposed to do. Still, it happened last Friday, and a journalist-turned-programmer has the pictures to prove it.
Timothy Barmann, previously news applications editor for the Providence Journal in Rhode Island, was in town for a programmers convention called RailsConf at Bartle Hall. He saw a group huddled around the interactive kiosk at 19th and Main streets around 10:40 p.m.
Kansas City has installed 25 kiosks along its new 2.2-mile streetcar line, which made its public debut on Friday. The interactive touch screens provide information about the streetcars, the city and activities to enjoy. And the city is inviting developers to come up with apps to run on the kiosks.
This one kiosk, however, became too interactive.
Barmann said he watched people put their palms on the kiosk screen in different places and somehow become able to swipe away the screen filled with streetcar information. The group gained access to a standard Ubuntu desktop on the kiosk, just as someone would on a personal computer.
The journalist snapped photos as people began to play with the kiosk like a personal device. One opened Google’s sign-in page. Several played solitaire.
“It seemed to be kind of a fun thing to do,” Barmann said.
The kiosks were installed and their software is maintained by Smart City Media LLC, which features the Kansas City kiosk on the solutions portion of its web page.
“We’re addressing this,” said Mike Mainthow, chief marketing officer of Smart City Media.
Sprint, which built and runs the Wi-Fi network that connects the kiosks to the Internet, referred questions to the city.
Kansas City communications director Chris Hernandez acknowledged the incident but said there was “never any security risk” and “no one got into the system.”
What happened, he said, was this: With Friday’s launch of the streetcars, Smart City teams were watching the kiosks closely for how they were being used. At one point, they wanted to make some adjustments to deal with some “connectivity issues” and took a couple of kiosks offline briefly.
As the kiosks were taken offline, Hernandez said, their interactive screens reverted to the desktops. He said that no one at the kiosks had done anything to gain access and that the kiosk had not been hacked.
“They just happened to be there when it defaulted to a desktop version when they were making adjustments,” Hernandez said.
Barmann said that the group, after reaching the kiosk’s desktop, was able to display a command prompt that could have allowed them to open the terminal and gain access to its operating system. But there was no keyboard on the touch screen to type in commands.
“At least while I was watching nobody was able to figure out how to bring up a keyboard,” he said.
In one of the photos, Barmann said, he could see that the kiosk’s Bluetooth wireless appeared to be enabled.
“Somebody who was sophisticated might have been able to connect a keyboard,” Barmann said.
Hernandez said the incident did offer a lesson for the future operation of the kiosks. The system operators are looking at how people use the kiosks to tailor their offerings on the system. Solitaire, anyone?
“If people are going to spend the time to have that interaction with the machine … why not?” Hernandez said.