Iowa City launches Hello Lamp Post program

The program uses QR codes to allow the public to communicate with objects and places in Iowa City. These messages give insight on featured activities and shopping recommendations.


Vincenzo Mazza

Iowa City Hello Lamp Program yard signs are seen in the Pedestrian Mall on Saturday, Dec.10, 2022.

Sofia Mamakos, News Reporter

Shoppers can access the Hello Lamp Post program via QR codes to ask questions about products and shops in Downtown Iowa City. 

The Iowa City Downtown District launched the program this month, which allows the public to scan a QR code or contacting a number posted on objects in the city. The code directs pedestrians to a text conversation where they type “hello downtown” and ask a question to converse with the object using customized artificial intelligence technology. 

Betsy Potter, Iowa City Downtown District director of creative services, said Iowa City is one of the first cities in the U.S. to introduce the technology. For conversations about the holidays, she said the QR codes and numbers are posted on yard signs in the Iowa City pedestrian mall and on posters in business windows.

Hello Lamp Post is a United Kingdom-based software company used throughout Europe. The program provides the public with local information and gathers pedestrian opinions, according to its website. 

“We saw this program in other communities and thought it was a really unique way to engage with the public,” Potter said.

For the first version of the program, she said the Iowa City Downtown District is focusing on questions about the holiday season, including shopping recommendations and information about events happening downtown.

“If you were to text the number and say, ‘Hello downtown, where can I buy candy canes?’ the software system should come back with all of the answers that we’ve populated and start to have a conversation like, ‘Candy canes are great. You can buy them at X, Y, and Z in downtown,’” Potter said.

Sydney Hotchkiss, a University of Iowa first-year student, said she thinks the program is a great use of technology. 

“It will be helpful for me since I always get lost downtown, and I’m new to the city, ‘’ Hotchkiss said. “If the word gets spread out, I think it will bring more people to smaller businesses.”

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UI first-year student Sam Keenan also said he thinks this will be helpful for the community.

“I think it’s a good idea, and I hope that people participate. It would be cool to see it develop into something bigger,” Keenan said.

After the holiday season, Potter said the Iowa City Downtown District is open to posting the technology in different areas throughout the city.

“How it all started is that they would put these numbers on lamp posts in England,” she said. “So, there’s a number of different ways you can post them. But for this one, because it’s temporary and it’s short lived, we’re using yard signs and posters.”

Additionally, Potter said the Iowa City Downtown District is planning other ways to use the software if the program does well.

“We are hoping over the course of the next year, we’ll have about three different conversations,” Potter said. “One around our public art, one around the holidays that we have going on right now, and one in the spring and summer more incorporated with the community and feedback on things that are going on.”

Potter said she hopes the program will see success right away so that the downtown district can utilize it again in the future.

“This is our first launch of it, but over the next year or so we’re going to use it a lot more,’’ Potter said. “It’d be great if people would engage with it right away.”