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The World’s First “Transit Appliance”

This is just too cool.  At Rail-volution, Chris Smith from Portland Transport debuted what he is calling the world's first "Transit Appliance". It can deliver real-time transit arrival estimates to a display in your home, coffee shop, library or, well, anywhere frequented by transit users.

Drawing upon a number of a variety of Open Source software components (including Linux), the Open Hardware "Chumby" platform, and public open data from Portland's TriMet & NextBus, a successfully hacked device can bring a little ease of mind to customers of restaurants or delis.  Just another way to lead a more efficient life!

Chris says that the appliance can be delivered for less than $200 anywhere a  WiFi connection is available.  For more info contact him directly at chris [at] portlandtransport [dot] com.

<br> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Chris Smith:</i>  [00:00] So this is something that at Portland Transport we’re sort of preliminary calling the Transit Appliance and it’s a combination of open data, open source software and open hardware.  This is a commercial product called the Insignia Infocast, you can buy one for $170 at the Best Buy.  But it’s built on an open hardware platform called the Chumby that’s been circulating around the open source world for a couple of years, so it’s hackable, and in fact it runs the Window operating system so it’s an open source operating system.  And we have hacked it to load up a web browser and display transit arrival times using open data from Tri-Met, our local transit agency.  So we have open hardware, open source software and open data conspiring here to put real time transit arrival information anywhere you can get a WiFi connection for under two hundred bucks.  We’re here at Rail-Volution and there are a number of folks here who will be travelling home today or tomorrow, want to get to the airport.  We’re blessed here in Portland, we have a light rail connection directly from Downtown to the airport.  So this is showing the trains arriving are Pioneer Square Station, which is the nearest place you can pick up the red line to the airport.  </font> <br></p> <a href="http://transcriptdivas.ca/transcription-canada/">Transcript Divas Transcription Canada </a>
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  • http://portlandtransport.com Chris Smith

    A little more info about the appliance here: http://portlandtransport.com/archives/2010/09/169_transit_inf.html

  • Scott Mercer

    I love my Chumby. So this should be quite nice.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/capntransit Cap’n Transit

    Someone find a window on 34th Street to put one in!

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/biped biped

    the coolest thing I see from a New Yorker's perspective is not so much the appliance, but the access to the real-time data supplied by the city of Portland.

  • http://portlandtransport.com Chris Smith

    While the City of Portland does have an aggressive open data policy, in this case the credit goes to TriMet, our regional transit agency, which has been THE leader in opening up transit information in this country.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/biped biped

    I stand corrected TriMet not Portland gets the cred for the data - but the point being, once the data is available it becomes device agnostic. With very little effort this information could be on any internet capable device. Either way, consider me jealous in NYC.

  • http://atlurbanist.tumblr.com Darin

    I would like to have an appliance like this for Atlanta's MARTA. Budget cuts have made the trains run less frequently, so knowing exactly when one is coming would be particularly useful. Instead of getting trapped on a train platform for 25 minutes, you could just linger longer at a restaurant.

  • tom murphy

    This device should also be publicly displayed out in the open at busy intersections where people on their way to mass-transit can access real-time info to make a smart last minute decision before locking in their time and money.

  • http://portlandtransport.com Chris Smith

    This device should also be publicly displayed out in the open...

    I'd love to see devices like this at every transit stop. There are two challenges:

    1) Hardening for weather and reliability
    2) Communications

    The 'appliance' in this video sidesteps both of those by being in an indoor environment where if it needs to be reset (I have seen it hang a couple of times) someone just needs to cycle the power switch. And it poaches off an available WiFi signal.

    One possibility would be to place larger screens inside the windows of building adjacent to transit stops.

    The appliance is simply a 'low-hanging fruit' use case. There are a lot more use cases. My hope is that by establishing one use case fairly widely we can drive experimentation and adoption of other use cases.

  • http://weeels.org alex

    This sounds like a really elegant solution, and inspiring for those of us looking for ways of building new ways to distribute information -- and connect users -- around transit.

    Agreed that this could and should be implemented in outdoor spaces. Problem: these devices don't last long in public, either because of vandalism or wear-and-tear.

    BTW, Weeels (weeels.org), which I'm working on, is an app for ordering and sharing taxis in NYC and bills itself as the first "social transit" utility. There may be an interesting opportunity for cross-over here...

  • http://abstractnonsense.wordpress.com Alon Levy

    It may be the world's first real-time transit schedule tracker that doesn't come in a cellphone or computer, but it's most definitely not the world's first transit appliance.

  • Jason Reinwick

    Did anyone else notice it says "Potland" instead of "Portland"? At 47 seconds, for example.

  • http://portlandtransport.com Chris Smith

    That got fixed later in the day :-)

  • Bob Johnsen

    Hate to burst the bubble here, but this is definitely not the World's First Transit Appliance. NextBus, Inc. based in Alameda, CA has been making Chumby-based transit appliances for many years. They actually hold the patents on several of the processes involved in showing real-time data like this.

    You probably should do some research before you try and sell these, you very well could be infringing on a patent.

  • http://portlandtransport.com Chris Smith

    This thing has gotten a little hyperbolic as the meme has spread around the net. I'm not sure I ever made the claim that it was the 'first' and 'transit appliance' is more of a description than a name.

    But the 'arrivals display' intellectual property issues have been pretty well litigated, as dozens if not hundreds of phone apps that are going unchallenged seem to amply demonstrate.

    Unclear if anyone will ever 'sell' these as a complete product (maybe) or if we'll simply make it easy for someone to buy the unit at Best Buy and make it function for this application.

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    Sorry if we helped add to the hyperbole but Googling and searching for "transit appliance" and related phrases turned up nothing prior to post.