APTA Emerging and Innovative Technology Committee: 2014 Rail Conference

The APTA Emerging and Innovative Technology Committee met yesterday to discuss ongoing work this year related to both Senior/Disabled Assistive and 3D Printing Technologies.  The session on 3D printing was excellent, with new participants chiming in with great ideas for what the committee could achieve in this topic.  From prototyping components, to Buy America support, to solving problems with older parts, 3D printing has huge promise for the public transportation industry.

TRB IDEA Project on Wearables and Beacons

The APTA Emerging and Innovative Technology Subcommittee of the Research and Technology Committee submitted our first grant proposal to the Transportation Research Board for IDEA funding this month.  The proposal “Wearables and Beacons: Using Contextually-Aware Technology to Improve Navigation of Public Transportation Spaces for Customers with Visual, Language, and Aging Challenges” intends to conduct practical research.  The goal is to provide field research demonstrating whether wearables like smartwatches or other connected devices can communicate using Low Energy Bluetooth to communicate with beacons to assist those with challenges in navigating complex public transit spaces.  Our hope is to foster innovation in the public transit industry around the underserved senior/disabled community in the industry.  We believe this project relates to issues of social equity, sustainability, and innovation.

The team we built includes Cubic, Control Group, New York MTA, and Sachs Insights, working under the guidance of a cross functional committee that includes private and public sector participants from organizations like RouteMatch, Clever Devices, Southern Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA), University of Southern Florida, Cisco, Santa Monica Big Blue Bus, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, and others.

EU-US Symposium on Transportation Research

I was fortunate to be invited to participate in a symposium between the European Union and the United States on improving the adoption and use of transportation research globally.  The meeting included both public transportation and highways and roads organizations, and included members of agencies, universities, and private companies from all perspectives in the transportation industry. Highlights included a presentation by Natalia de Estevan from Transport for London on  implementing the results of their Research and Development (R&D) efforts in an urban setting (“people don’t just experience our service, they feel it“), Chris Martin from Bosch talking about Vehicle to Infrastructure communications, and a cool discussion of electric vehicle charging using energy from regenerative braking of trains by Luiz Lopez Ruiz from Spain’s Administrator of Railway Infrastructure (adif.es). There were also presentations by the Conference of European Directors of Roads (CEDR), the University of Maryland, MBTA, and others.   Of special concern for the symposium participants was the question of why other government-funded and sponsored research more successfully reaches adoption while transportation entities are far slower to adopt the results of research.  For example, research related to space, health sciences, and education all have proceeded to adoption and commercialization.  Unfortunately, transportation research significantly lags behind these other industries. Members of the symposium identified a number of contributors to this dynamic, including the smaller pool of funding, that transportation infrastructure in many ways is invisible and not engaging for the public, and the life cycle of the infrastructure and process does not lend to quick adoption of innovation.

New York MTA goes live with OnTheGo panels by Control Group

One of the coolest transit technology projects I have seen recently just went live in New York for the MTA – interactive touchscreens called “On the Go” by Control Group.  These capacitive screens behave similar to a smartphone, with the user being able to actively engage with the screen based on the location of the device.  The user interface is beautiful and intuitive, providing quick and relevant information to the user.

Control Group is an innovation incubator with diverse interests in many different industries, and they bring that knowledge now into the public transit world for New York MTA.  This device is different than the static or dynamic message boards found typically at most agencies (and, disclosure, made by my company’s subsidiary NextBus) in that the user can actively engage with the device.  They are funding much of this development based on shared advertising revenue, thus decreasing the capital investment by the agency.

I encourage everyone to take a look at this cool company.