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HP, Chicago create high-tech lounges for visitors at O'Hare
By Anna Marie Kukec | Daily Herald Staff

New, high-resolution PC touchscreens have been installed at O'Hare International Airport so visitors can quickly find attractions.

 

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Published: 3/30/2009 11:30 AM

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Travelers arriving at O'Hare International Airport now have new high-tech tools at their fingertips to literally zoom in and out of the city's most popular sites.

About 50 extra-large touch-screen computers, without keyboards, are being unveiled today around the airport and in two new high-tech lounges.

Just use your fingertip to call up a popular site and touch again to zoom inside a building or attraction. Or just roam around. The ultrasensitive screens also allow you to move high-resolution images around to get to where you want to go, said Laura Chmielewski, deputy director of the Chicago Office of Tourism.

"I just couldn't believe how cool it was. They're just beautiful," said Chmielewski. "It's nothing like using other touch-screens or even your iPhone."

The six-month pilot was a partnership between HP, the Department of Aviation and the Chicago Office of Tourism to get visitors to have a more enjoyable experience while obtaining travel information. The 50 new touch-screens will log onto www.explorechicago.org and provide a more lifelike, interactive experience.

One lounge will be nestled in between Terminals 1 and 2, while the other is between Terminals 2 and 3. Both will be open, free of charge, to an expected 5,000 users a day, the agency said.

The installation cost about $315,000. HP, NASA and GigaPan, which provided the photography, covered around 90 percent of the cost. The remaining 10 percent, or $30,000, came from the Chicago Office of Tourism through a state grant earmarked to market the city and airport funds.

O'Hare is perhaps the only airport to sport the HP TouchSmart PCs that offer such an experience, said Stephen DeWitt, HP senior vice president and general manager for Personal Systems Group Americas.

While New York City has similar touch-screens around the city, O'Hare is the only airport with the high-tech lounges that include HP's newest technology.

"We left the deal open-ended to see what impact they will have and how people will react," said DeWitt.

HP has been talking with other airport authorities to do similar projects, but DeWitt declined to reveal what cities. The tourism office could not say whether a handicap-accessible version would be available.

What if the touchscreens become so popular that all 50 are used simultaneously? Will the network crash?

"There won't be any crashing," said DeWitt. "There's plenty of horsepower here."

While the touch-screens will offer a beautiful insight into the city, visitors will not be able to download any of the information onto their hand-held devices or mobile phones or print out information.

"This is just rapid-fire, quick access to the sights and sounds of the city," said DeWitt.