Sensor Uses Phone Signals To Track, Improve Bus Schedules

Researchers with the University of Washington have developed a sensor that uses the Bluetooth and WiFi signals coming off passengers' smartphones to gather data on public transportation. When someone gets on or off a bus equipped with the sensor, data like where they did so is recorded, as well as how many people were on the bus (that have phones, at least), transfer times, and more.

This type of data could greatly expand the information available to transit companies and cities, enabling them to adjust and better schedule their routes and buses to meet actual demand and usage. This data could complement existing data collection methods, such as smart card recordings, manual counting, and more.

The sensor would cost companies about $60 for each bus; they work by detecting MAC addresses and associating them with location and time stamps. The addresses are anonymized for privacy's sake. The sensors have been in testing since May 2015 with the University of Washington Transportation Services.

Professor and senior author Yinhai Wang described the system thusly: "Let's say you have a Husky game or Seahawks game and you want to know how much demand changes so you can offer the right level of bus service for this special event. If you can gather enough data from these real-time sensing systems, that's going to offer very valuable information."

SOURCE: University of Washington