Monday, July 28, 2008

Paca's Useless Inventions

I'm still not here. You just can't tell that by my presence. I'm currently working on the language acquisition essay. The goal is to finish that draft up by tomorrow night, then the draft for psycholinguistics by Friday night. Then edit them. Editing's a bigger deal than one might think, since essay One is several pages over the limit and includes notes to myself like (I'M MAKING THIS UP, CHECK JUN 2005 TO SEE WHAT'S TRUE).

Anyway, here's my latest invention.


The biggest problem in Honolulu with buses is getting on them, specifically waiting. The things are never on schedule so I've routinely ended up sitting around for 30, 40 minutes for the bus to show up. If buses are supposed to be an efficient mode of transport such that people who need to be at work on time or to pick up the kids from school on time without losing an hour to sitting a stop everyday can use the bus system, then people need a way to know just when that stupid bus really is likely to show up.

So, install a GPS on each bus. Collect data for a few days so that we have rough time estimates for how long it takes to get from one bus stop to a future bus stop. GPS says the closest current bus stop for route 4 is corner of Wilder and Ke'eaumoku and, based on history, the bus should therefore be at University in 9 minutes. Then send out the info on some appropriate periodic basis, like every tenth of a mile or each stop, with an RSS feed. People could check online, or fancy people could check their little mobiles, to see where the bus is and how long it is likely to take to get to your stop. To take into account current traffic, you might average the last two runs in the route with the overall time it takes, or keep time patterns for different times of the day. This latter part is really easy, and I actually know that it is because for 8 years I supported scheduling software for call centers in which we tracked half hourly call traffic patterns.

Now many of you will be saying, how many bus riders have Blackberries? Good question, because I don't have one either. But the idea for the future is for bus ridership to include people generally, and some majority of Americans have internet access and that's increasing. Clearly, the best thing to do would be to have a display of estimated arrival times at the bus stop itself. Then people could decide if it's safe to get that cup of coffee and come back or not. Of course, there are problems with this. Number One is probably security for the device so it doesn't get trashed or stolen. Then you have to get internet access to the little bench by the side of the road. Regardless, I think Paca's Bus Scheduler (Paca's BS) would be quite useful and increase public transport ridership.

One guess where I was when engineering this.

Back to language acquisition.


writtenwyrdd said...

A form of Twitter for mass transit? Brilliant! (Like the two dudes in the Guiness commercial say.) But aren't you supposed to be working?

pjd said...

Back in the early 1990s I was working for a company called Geoworks, a software company working with Sharp on the Z-PDA, a competitor to Apple's Newton that came out about the same time. (That project ended up launching a little company called Palm Computing, you may have heard of them.)

Your suggestion was among the many concept vision things that we would talk about when trying to convince a skeptical press, a more skeptical VC community, and a completely "you're full of sh..." public that handheld computers with touch screens would one day be ubiquitous. This was before the internet and the web.

So yes, I think it's a good idea, and I would be very surprised if a number of companies don't already have commercially available fleet management systems that do essentially this. But without the ETA on a scheduled route. (Cab companies and delivery companies come to mind as very good fleet managers.)