An orange balloon glides along Regina's streets. It stops briefly, moves along, and stops again. That balloon is a city bus, being tracked on a computer screen by TransitLive.
TransitLive is a computer technology designed to make public transit easier to use and manage. Click on a bus stop along the route and you get the exact time the bus will be there.
"That little balloon is a live bus, moving in real time," says Raman Paranjape, who worked with fellow University of Regina engineers Craig Gelowitz and Luigi Benedicenti to develop TransitLive. "If you happened to be on that street and looked out your window, that bus would be moving down the street."
The team formed Canadian Research Logistics (CRL) to market the technology and recently received the prestigious Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists in Saskatchewan (APEGS) 2010 Exceptional Engineering/Geoscience Project Award for their work on TransitLive. Both Paranjape and Benedicenti are University of Regina professors, while Gelowitz is a research engineer and sessional lecturer.
Currently, 22 buses or about 20 percent of Regina's fleet are tracked by TransitLive in the trial project. Computers mounted on the buses "call home" to a server every 1.5 seconds.
As well as tracking a bus on a computer screen or mobile phone, TransitLive offers riders the option of texting to get the time the bus will arrive at a stop, or getting the same information by telephone.
"We tried to hit every conceivable communication interface for the average user across all demographics," Gelowitz said. Other functions include the option of setting up alarms for heading to the bus stop, based on real rather than scheduled times, making transit more user-friendly.
For drivers, there's a touch-screen interface that gives real-time feedback on their bus's progress and allows Dispatch to send messages if there's an accident or road project buses need to avoid. Drivers can also send a "red alert" in case of emergency.
At the same time, TransitLive helps transit officials monitor and manage the fleet in real time, and be prepared to respond to emergencies more quickly.
Other systems have been developed to meet the same need but the developers of TransitLive say their product is based on components and software that can easily be upgraded or altered to suit a new user, making it more flexible and more affordable.
"We can change it on the fly," Benedicenti says. "We can upload and download new components that work seamlessly with the other ones without having to change the entire system."
To use TransitLive, go to http://www.transitlive.com/.
In April the University of Regina's official blog - YOURblog - is highlighting some of the many ways the University community contributes to sustainability through its teaching, research, and campus life. Visit the blog [link to http://www2.uregina.ca/yourblog/]