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Don’t miss the bus

Waiting for a bus that was expected to arrive 10 minutes ago is enough to frustrate any transit user — particularly one waiting in a Calgary snowstorm.

So while transit schedulers can't predict when there are going to be weather woes, traffic congestion or unexpected mechanical issues, four SAIT alumni have created a system that can show riders exactly where their bus is at any given time.

The Holistic Vehicle Tracking System (HVTS) is the brainchild of Information Technology — Computer Systems '14 alumni Chris McNeil, Adam Elliot, Taylor Kinsella and Matthew Lillywhite. McNeil, team leader, conceived the idea for the system during his first year at SAIT — not surprisingly, while waiting for a bus.

"I realized there were no apps or websites to tell me where the bus actually was — it was just schedule information."

HTVS was designed by the students as part of their program capstone project earlier this year. McNeil is now at BCIT in Vancouver to present the system and represent SAIT at the Polytechnic's Canada Student Applied Research Showcase — a competition highlighting the applied research projects of students and recent graduates of eleven polytechnic institutions across the country.

The SAIT HVTS team. Left to right: Adam Elliot, Christopher McNeil, Tayloer Kinsella, Matthew Lillywhite.

The HVTS team (left to right): Adam Elliot, Christopher McNeil, Taylor Kinsella & Matthew Lillywhite

Here are four reasons why the HVTS system is innovative:

1. It will tell you the last three known locations of your bus.

During the research phase of their project, the team consulted Calgary Transit's information database, including the 2013 satisfaction survey results. They found the number one passenger concern is being on time.

The students' solution to the issue was simple — provide passengers with real-time information on bus locations so they can better plan their commutes. The group designed a custom-built GPS tracker that could attach to a vehicle and report back to a central server frequently via a cell signal.

Similar to the GPS available on our cell phones, a potential issue was building interference — but the students came up with a solution for that too — show the last three known locations.

"[The tracker] can report back and show users the last confirmed location, and the vicinity it's believed to be in now," says McNeil.

2. Users can access location data from a mobile-friendly website — no app download is required.

The GPS information sent to the server is made available to users via a responsive website — adapting it's layout to the device it's being viewed on, whether it's desktop or mobile.

"It doesn't matter if you're using a cellphone or a computer, you get the same information. The bulk of the processing is done on the server side to ensure a fast response for the client," says McNeil.

Visitors can also create a profile to save their favourite routes and stops for quicker access.

"Regardless of where you're logging in from, you have access to the same information."

3. There's already a working prototype.

The team went beyond coming up with a concept — they built the hardware and designed the responsive website, all of which was up and running in May.

"There were a whole bunch of yahoo moments along the way, but our best moment was getting our server online, looking at the database and realizing that we were getting real information about where this device was. We did a lot of testing around campus. The guys inside were watching and they could see it update in real time where the GPS was."

4. It was designed with Big Data integration in mind.

McNeil says the next step for the system would be "Big Data" integration — incorporating publicly available information like weather and traffic and pairing it with the data collected by the GPS system — allowing transit administrators to better predict route schedules throughout the year.

"As you collect more information, you can begin to draw connections in different and unexpected ways," says McNeil, about the possibility of having HVTS predict when buses will require more or less time to complete their routes. "You can begin to see patterns — at a particular time of year, certain weather conditions or a time of day, you find these buses are typically five or 10 minutes slower or faster than normal."

Nov. 12, 2014

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