CMU's public transit app expands to Android devices
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Carnegie Mellon University has expanded a project that tracks the location of public transit vehicles using riders' smartphones.
The university has released an Android version of Tiramisu, the application that allows riders to tell other riders where and how full buses are.
Project leaders are hoping that over time it will blossom into a full-fledged real-time tracking system that will enable riders with smartphones to know when the next bus is coming, and whether they'll get a seat.
The project, announced in July with an iPhone app, has been growing steadily, with riders providing information about more than 11,500 trips. The Android release should further boost participation, said Aaron Steinfeld, a senior systems scientist in the university's Robotics Institute.
"With the release of the Android version, Tiramisu now can be used with the vast majority of smartphones on the market. That's critical for a crowdsourcing app such as Tiramisu because users are its most important source of information. It becomes more helpful as more people use it."
Tiramisu, Italian for "pick me up," uses the GPS feature in smartphones to identify the rider's location and display a list of nearby bus stops, and when the next vehicle is expected to arrive.
When the rider boards, he or she hits a button that allows the Tiramisu server to track the vehicle and issue information to riders farther along the route. The rider also tells the system how full the bus is.
If no one is using the Tiramisu application on a particular bus, the system uses accumulated historical data to predict arrival times. And if that is not available, it will deliver arrival times based on the Port Authority schedules -- which is usually the case for now, until more riders are participating.
Another Tiramisu feature is the ability of riders to instantly report any problems or make suggestions to the Port Authority. If a seat is broken, for example, the rider can take a photo, add text and notify the authority, and the message will automatically convey the time, bus and location from which it was sent.
So far, nearly 4,800 iPhone users and 930 Android users have tried the app, Carnegie Mellon officials reported. "We're pretty excited," Mr. Steinfeld said. "This is leading to some very interesting research results."
Since the initial deployment this summer, the project team has refined the app to reduce battery power consumption and make it faster and easier to use.
In October, Tiramisu was one of three projects recognized by the Intelligent Transportation Society of America in the innovative products, services or applications category of its annual Best of ITS Awards.
Scott Belcher, president and CEO of ITS America, said Tiramisu "is a great example of how technology can be used to cost-effectively create a safer, more effective transportation network."
The app appears to be riders' best hope for real-time tracking of Port Authority vehicles. The estimated cost of developing its own tracking system using the GPS units on buses is $70 million, which is too expensive for the authority to even consider.
The app can be downloaded from the iTunes Store, Android Market or the project's website, www.tiramisutransit.com , which also has a tutorial and frequently asked questions page.
First Published December 5, 2011 12:00 am