Livewire Column: Internet photo booth delivers pix
By Michelle V. Rafter LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Visitors to the Museum of
Discovery and Science in downtown Fort Lauderdale, Fla., have a new attraction
to play with -- an Internet photo booth.
Old-fashioned booths, the kind you see at shopping malls, airports and
amusement parks everywhere, spit out a strip of instant photos.
The Internet booth, called the PhotoPod, takes a picture and uses it to
create a mini-Web page that serves as an electronic postcard, which can be sent
to any friend or relative with an e-mail address. For a couple dollars more,
photo subjects can opt to take home a print copy of their pictures.
The Internet photo booth is the brainchild of three Brown University
graduates who started a XStasis L.C., a private Coral Gables, Fla., company, in
1996 to explore options for public Internet access.
"It allows anyone without the knowledge or equipment to create their own
little corner of cyberspace," said Tim Hoyt, XStasis president and a co-
founder. "But it's not just that it's easier to do. It makes it a fun
XStasis tinkered around with the concept for a year before installing a
prototype last year in Virtua Cafe, a restaurant and video game emporium in
Miami's Coconut Grove tourist district. The results were encouraging. According
to Hoyt, more than 4,000 people have posted photos to the PhotoPod Web site
XStasis and manufacturing partner Photo Vend International of Sunrise,
Fla., placed a second demo unit at the Museum of Discovery and Science about
three weeks ago.
The booth sits near the entrance to the museum's Imax theater, in one of
the building's busiest areas. To make sure people notice it, the museum staff
installed a 27-inch TV monitor on top of the booth that gives onlookers a peek
at the pictures being taken inside. So far, the booth is used about 17 times a
day, said Russell Shafer, the museum's business development director.
"We were hesitant at first because of the newness of the technology, but
people are really enjoying themselves," he said.
Photo Vend, which is building the $15,000 booths for XStasis, expects the
first 25 commercial units to roll off the assembly line later this month.
According to Hoyt, most have already been sold or placed, and Photo Vend is
considering producing hundreds more. A Photo Vend representative could not be
reached for comment.
Within each PhotoPod booth is a bench on one side and on the other a wall-
mounted Pentium II computer, camera, and 17-inch touch screen. After paying, a
customer steps inside, sits down and poses for pictures. Once a picture
develops, the customer can select artwork from a number of themes -- birthday,
anniversary, safari, aliens, butterflies, cartoon art, etc. -- to frame the
completed picture. Then they can send it to someone by typing their e-mail
address on the touch screen. The booth downloads photos to the PhotoPod Web
site at other predetermined times of day through an automated Internet hookup.
Back home, people can log onto a password-protected page on the PhotoPod
Web site to add captions to their photos. In the future, they'll also be able
to use software tools to digitally enhance the image.
"Intel's giving us an applet (software) that allows you to turn it into a 3-
D shape and rotate it around," Hoyt said.
In fact, Intel Corp. is so taken with the technology the chip maker has
invited XStasis to display the kiosks in Intel's exhibit space at several
amusement industry conventions this year, to show off how its Pentium chip
technology can be used in electronic attractions, Hoyt said.
Besides letting people have fun, Internet photo booths let them be active
rather than passive users of online entertainment, Hoyt said.
"It gives tools to people to create content rather than just be content
consumers -- and it's working the way we originally envisioned it," he said.
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(Michelle V. Rafter writes about cyberspace and technology from Los
Angeles. Reach her at mvrafter(at)deltanet.com. Opinions expressed in this
column are her own.)