|Sent on:||Tuesday, December 4, 2012 10:15 PM|
As some of you may know, I've been interested in solving big transportation problems for over ten years. Those who attended IGNITE Tampa in January 2012 heard my lightning talk about socializing transportation. Well, what I intentionally left out of that talk was my specific research interest in the topic of passenger-vehicle matching. I've been working on a concept for a transportation dispatching system for about two years now. The project is called bus+ (Bus Plus - http://buspl.us). It is completely open source. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I found some time to do some really meaningful code contributions toward the project. Where last month there was a random incoherent brain dump nearly 10mo old, today there is a web service component built in Ruby (with passing tests), an iPhone app for passengers, and a universal (iPhone/iPad) app for drivers.
Over this past weekend, I was able to successfully complete an end-to-end test of the passenger-vehicle matching system, using Apple Push Notification service (APNs) to coordinate information between passenger, automated dispatcher, and vehicle. I'm very pleased to say that the entire system works as anticipated and requires only one person (the passenger) to interact with a machine. The drivers need only respond to updates in their waypoint guidance. One big thing about bus+ that is special is it can scale to meet the demand of an entire metro area.
I want to highlight the significance of the scaling achievement. For those who have studied computer science, you'll be familiar with one of the harder problems, called the Traveling Salesman Problem (TSP). If you're unfamiliar, google it. I want to extend to each of you the opportunity to join my team and use social dynamics and a distributed computing strategy to solve something harder than the TSP. There will be no patents. We'll do the entire thing open source for all to benefit. Where no system has ever been able to compute efficient simultaneous solutions for an arbitrary number of passengers being driven around by an arbitrary number of vehicles, we will do it for every passenger in under 30sec.
So, what do I need from you? I need some people who have iPhone/iPad and car and some extra time to pledge some of their time and the use of their car to help me do more comprehensive system tests (involving actually driving to pick people up and take them someplace). Most likely, this will simply mean using the driver app and marking yourself as "on duty" when you set out to head to work, turning off the "on duty" sign when you get there. There are some immediate technical challenges that we must face, but the higher goal is to exercise the system, prove the concept and find any glaring technical issues.
I've always known the hard part would be getting people excited about making a change. I plan to work with non-profit groups like Tampa Bay WaVE; academic institutions like USF, University of Tampa, and IADT; commercial partners like Super Shuttle, cab companies, and HART; and governmental officials like Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe and Mayor Bob Buckhorn. If this is ever to make a lasting impact, it must be embraced by every angle of the local community with unanimous support. That's why I chose to make it all open source, but it's also why I need your help. Who wants to help me change the world?