Firm snaps up smart bus license

A system that tells when buses will arrive could soon be available to the rest of the country

Talking Bus demo

A passenger information system that lets Seattle-area residents check bus arrival times on the Internet could soon be available to the rest of the country.

The University of Washington, which developed a demonstration system for King County Metro Transit, granted a 30-month exclusive license to Digital Recorders Inc. last week to modify the technology and sell it to other transit authorities.

"It's the only [predictive] system that has been implemented on so many buses that's really working," said Tanya Johnson, the company's general manager.

In King County, transit officials and passengers can track the whereabouts of 1,200 buses from their computers or Web-enabled phones thanks to two complementary technologies from the university's Intelligent Transportation Systems research program. Busview shows bus locations on a map, and MyBus predicts arrival times.

Digital Recorders plans to integrate the products with its existing automatic vehicle location system. Digital Recorders' Talking Bus and TwinVision systems rely on Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite signals to make automated, on-vehicle voice and text "next-stop" announcements.

The King County system compares odometer readings with the assigned route to place the bus on a digital map and predict arrival times.

MyBus algorithms compare real-time data to previous bus trips to make predictions. University engineers also have created traffic models to account for bad weather or unusual congestion. Depending on the distance between the bus and the stop, the software can be 99 percent accurate within one or two minutes of the prediction, said MyBus architect Dan Dailey, an associate professor of electrical engineering at the University of Washington.

"But whether it gets there exactly on the minute is not an issue. It's the security of knowing the bus is coming" that makes the system valuable, said David Turney, Digital Recorders' chairman and chief executive officer.

"The magic is the marriage of those two proven technologies while at the same time moving" them to GPS, Turney said.

NEXT STORY: Army rolling out smart truck