The Bus Sensor

Waiting endlessly for a bus on my way to office, I was thinking about what might make the life of bus travelers better, and make them wait less. I was thinking if there?s anything that can be done in order to help people plan their bus journeys on a real-time basis. Here are my thoughts on the same. It might have been implemented somewhere, but still, please let me know your views on this.

The device I am proposing is quite simple ? something like a combination of a GPS device and a mobile phone. Each bus will carry one such device. And every minute, the device sends a message to a central server regarding the exact coordinates of the bus. The server gathers this data from all buses and consolidates it.

This data is used in two ways. First, it will be available online. In an easy-to-use format. For example, I should be able to pull up in one shot the locations of all buses of route 500K. And if I input the place where I plan to board the bus, the system should be able to tell me how long it will take for the bus to arrive at that stop.?

The second, and more important use, involves a second device. This is like a combination of a mobile phone and a giant screen, and one such device will be installed at each bus stop. And every couple of minutes, the central server sends a message to this device, giving it the information regarding all buses that are supposed to reach that stop in the next few minutes. So at every bus stop, there will be a display board giving information of when each bus is scheduled to arrive. Real time. Will immensely help commuters in planning their routes and taking decisions with respect to travel.

The technology (as I see it) should not be much of a problem. We will use the existing mobile networks for communication. I’m not sure if messages to and from a couple of thousand buses/bus stops is going to clog the mobile network, but I think it?s quite unlikely.?

There could be one hurdle ? we need fairly accurate GPS in the buses. We need a system that can figure out the location to an accuracy good enough that we know which road the bus is on, and the position also. However, I have a hunch that this should be possible.

Then, there is the issue of converting distance into time. Suppose a bus is 1 km away from my bus stop, how does the system know how much time it is going to take? This is where learning will come in. The system knows the history. It knows the time taken by buses to navigate a particular stretch at a particular time of day on a particular day of week. This can easily be harnessed to calculate the time. An externality would be the availability of reams of data regarding time taken to navigate different roads ? a gold mine for city planners (if they use it in the right way that is).?

All said and done, there is going to be a certain cost to the system. We need to set up display boards at each bus stop. We need to manufacture the device to be put in the bus, and also the entire receiving system at the bus stops. We need to maintain the database, and the website, and set up a server. There is also the cost of using the network for the messages that we send.

As a means of revenue, I can think of only good old advertising. The basic thing is that the display board at a bus stop need not provide information about the buses all the time. Maybe the bus timings can be on for thirty seconds, and the next thirty could be devoted to silent ads. You effectively have a dynamic hoarding in each bus stop, and if properly managed, can generate huge revenues. Remember that the display board is also networked. That can make a huge amount of difference.?

So what do you think of my idea? Do you think it will work? Do you think it?s technologically feasible? Do you think the costs can be kept low? And that we can make enough revenues to cover for these costs (I’m yet to do the costing and stuff)? And most importantly has this already been implemented somewhere? I?ve seen this on a few London bus stops where they mention the expected time of arrival for a few arriving buses. But I don?t now how comprehensive that is.

And even more importantly, do you think this adds enough value to the consumer ? both the guy who accesses the website, and the guy at the stops who looks at the display board?

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