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Carnegie Mellon iPhone Bus App Brings Real-Time Data to Disabled Riders

A new free iPhone app from Carnegie Mellon University promises to let riders know when to expect their buses to arrive. Although arrival time apps are available for well funded bus systems around the country, Tiramisu relies on crowdsourcing input from riders to generate updates about the current location and fullness of the bus.

When a rider first activates the app, Tiramisu displays the nearest stops and a list of buses or light rail vehicles scheduled to arrive. When the user boards the bus, he or she presses a button, which allows the phone to share its GPS location with the Tiramisu server. When insufficient real-time arrival data is available, the app will tap previous input to compute its estimate.

Developers indicated they hope the app will prove useful especially to disabled riders. Capacity information lets riders who use wheelchairs know if there's space on the bus. Blind riders can use the app through the iPhone screen reader.

The new app was developed by researchers in the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Accessible Public Transportation (RERC-APT), supported in part by CMU's Traffic21 initiative. RERC-APT is a collaboration between Carnegie Mellon and the University at Buffalo, focused on the transportation needs of people with disabilities.

"The beauty of Tiramisu is that it provides information that is valuable not just for people with disabilities, but for every rider. This universal design approach helps everyone," said Aaron Steinfeld, co-director of RERC-APT and a senior systems scientist in Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute. "It can even benefit non-riders, such as local shops, because riders will know if they have time to go into a store."

Currently, the app reports on transit in Allegheny County, where Pittsburgh--home to Carnegie Mellon's main campus--is located. However, the software architecture is designed to work for other transit systems too, according to its developers. During a field test, the app team found that even a small number of riders along a route can provide useful, real-time information about buses.

Traffic21 draws on expertise and resources from across the university to come up with ideas for and develop intelligent transportation system technology, specifically addressing Pittsburgh's needs. A broader goal is to turn the region into a showcase for "smart transportation," thus expanding investment in both research and commercialization. In addition to Traffic21, support for Tiramisu came from a number of private and public entities.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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