In the annals of technology, one major milestone I would consider most do not hold knowledge of  is The Plato Hotline.  In 1977, Murray Lappe, a pre-med student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, developed the very first self-service, interactive kiosk.

To put in perspective the novelty of this machine – the first GUI (Graphical User Interface) was not yet in commercial use via the Apple LISA (which debuted in 1983) and the Apple Macintosh 128k (1984).  It was not until the early 1980’s that the term home personal-computer would be used. In fact, the later 70’s were still standard users of the punch card system of storing FORTRAN programs. I remember these from the days when my Dad was taking programming classes at the local community college. The internet, though a functional system with the military, did not yet have mainstream use – – – that would not occur until a decade later in the mid-80’s.

The Plato Hotline’s content was created on a PLATO computer system.

PLATO computer system

PLATO computer system

Interaction with this kiosk was done through a Plasma touch screen panel which was co-invented in 1964 at the University of Illinois by engineer Donald L. Bitzer. (Blitzer is currently a Distinguished University Research Professor in the Department of Computer Science at NC State University).

The Plato Hotline provided students with a way to discover movies, view maps, directories, bus schedules, extracurricular activities and college courses.  When the unit debuted April 1977, it is reported that over 30,000 students, teachers and visitors stood in line for over 6 hours for a chance to interact with this “personal computer” for the first time. Lappe and Blitzer seems to have been ahead of their time. An extra tech-history tid-bit… this was a full month before the first Star Wars debuted (or is that now considered the 4th) .

The very first self-service interactive kiosk was made for and at a university.  Though the industry has spread across a myriad of other industries, still today we at Meridian work with a number of University, College and other school systems to provide self-service solutions that accomplish a great many of the same things that The Plato Hotline provided.  From way-finding to class schedules – the information is still relevant. Strategically located, self-service solutions are a great means to direct and inform the student body, faculty and visitors. If you are part of an educational system and would like to see what a self-service solution could offer your campus, contact us today!