Sunday, January 04, 2009

Potential Impact of Cellular Technology in Transportation

I will discuss a possible student project in programming cell phones. We start by observing that the cellular revolution has made a huge difference in enabling better coordination of human activities. You don’t need to wait for someone to arrive without knowing if he would be 10 mts late or two hours late! If he is a considerate person, he should telephone those waiting, irrespective of where he is.

However, there are problems in enabling passengers to know when buses/trains would arrive at a given place. Rudimentary systems have been implemented by the railways, but even their websites seem to have been designed by someone with a grudge against humanity :=) Airline websites are not much better off. The bus transportation industry is in the early stages of exploiting IT.

I believe that cellular technology has great potential to alleviate many problems in the transportation area.

Objectives of the project:

1. Create a solution that works with inexpensive cell phones and is easy to use. This is essential for the system to be relevant to the large majority of cell phone users.
2. Ensure that the whole solution is inexpensive and does not require investment on a large scale to create the necessary infrastructure. It should be possible to start with a relatively low level of investment, for instance to begin with a single bus-route or bus station.
3. Use mass-produced (commodity priced) equipment almost completely, to reduce time to implement the solution and to realize a low cost system.


1. Bluetooth connectivity is relatively more common than GPS, WiFi etc. in less expensive cell phones.
2. We can limit the solution at this stage to serve those who can create and read simple SMS-like messages using a User Application (UA) downloaded into the phone.

The Basic Concept:

1. Bus stops in a city would have unique number (BSN) painted to be easily visible. This would identify the bus stop to the users.
2. Each bus route would have a unique Route Number (RN). In addition, each individual Bus would have a Vehicle ID (VID) number.
3. There would be multiple Bluetooth beacons (such as the one described in ) placed in selected places at each bus stop, to be detected by every bus that stops at that location.
4. The user would send a short message containing BSN and RN through the UA application, which would add a Base-station IDentifier (BID), and time & date of message transmission. In addition the central station would have the cell phone number from which the message originated.
5. The bus would carry a cell phone with an On-board Application (OA) that detects bus stop beacons and sends one message per bus stop giving the BSN, VID, RN, time and date to the central server.
6. On the server, a Central Tracking Application (CTA) would keep track of which vehicle is where, using the messages it receives. In addition it would collect and keep statistical data about the typical time it takes for a bus to travel from any given BSN to the next one while on a given RN. Using this information, the CTA can predict when the next bus on a given RN would arrive at a given BSN.
7. The user, from wherever he is (bus stop, home, office etc.), can send a message using the UA giving RN and BSN information. The CTA would respond to this automatically, giving the expected time of arrival of the next bus on RN that would stop at that BSN.


A number of enhancements are possible. For instance, the bus driver could enter into the cell phone with OA some specified information about seat availability. This can be shared with those who ask for relevant information. The information handled can be used to improve bus scheduling and for better management of road traffic (locating and dealing with bottlenecks etc.).

Srinivasan Ramani

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