Lessons Learned from Displaying the Transit Appliance at RailVolution

Opportunistically, I brought a couple of our “Transit Appliances” (which previously had not been tested anywhere other than my home office) to RailVolution with me.

TriMet was very gracious and allowed me to display one on their hospitality table. And I was fortunate enough to catch the attention of Clarence Eckerson of Streetfilms, leading to the national announcement of our little prototype:

I did learn a couple of lessons:

1) Public WiFi systems are complicated. The hotel had several routers with apparently differing login schemes. The appliance that easily handled my home network was almost stymied by the post-connection HTML login pages in the hotel. I had to run out and buy a keyboard to get it up for most of Wednesday, but was unable to duplicate my success on Thursday.

2) Understand your audience! I had initially intended to demo the system using the bus stops closest to the hotel (downtown Hilton), but the demand for information (which TriMet had be providing with a laptop) was clearly for MAX to the airport. I was able to quickly reconfigure the appliance to serve this need.

A number of folks from TriMet (including General Manager Neil McFarlane) were able to get a peek and were enthusiastic. Time to start thinking about a beta rollout. Anyone know some transit-friendly coffee shop owners who might be candidates?

21 responses to “Lessons Learned from Displaying the Transit Appliance at RailVolution”

  1. Funny that you mentioned this because I was just thinking about the connectivity issue in general this morning.

    I was reading an article on the (inevitable, of course) “jailbreaking” of Apple’s new $99 AppleTV gadget. (Not the prior gadget of the same name.)

    The new AppleTV, internally, runs the same basic iOS that runs iPhones/iPods/iPads. One thing Apple likes to tout is how easy it is for them to connect to various WiFi networks that require HTML browser intervention.

    Well, today a developer showed the “first” 3rd-party app running on a jailbroken AppleTV. There is no technical reason why AppleTV can’t run apps in a manner very similar to the iPhone.

    And there’s already some great iPhone transit apps.

    So I think it’s only a manner of time before Apple offers an officially-sanctioned way to create apps for AppleTV, at which point all you need is a TV, a $99 AppleTV, and nearby WiFi to have a great transit display up and running.

    Yes, you can do this with cheap VESA-mount linux boxes all you like, but what Apple brings to the table is mass availability and ubiquitous recognition of the concept of installing software widgets to display info on your big screen.

    If Apple allows true apps with few restrictions, this gadget is going to revolutionize / destabilize the digital signage industry. (Spoken as a co-founder of a digital signage company back in the early ’90s.)

  2. Hey Chris,

    These look great but I think that their real value is realized at night when buses are now running once every blue moon. I would think that something like this at the doug fir or some similar bar that is near a number of bus lines and where people are likely going to be wanting to catch a bus that is coming very infrequently would be a real winner.

  3. Good point, Bjorn… Also keep in mind though that these devices don’t need to be in an establishment which is open (although that sure helps when you’re waiting on a cold night), so long as they are visible from the stop, or at least nearby, such as in a shop window.

  4. Check with the Lloyd TMA. The Mac store in the building at 700 NE Multnomah might be a good spot, and also the lobby/coffee shop/bank lobby of the Lloyd Tower at NE Multnomah and NE 9th has good wifi… Barnes and Noble and Village Inn both have wifi too.

    Also the Mac store in the Beaverton mall (Cedar Hills Crossing) could be a good idea.

    Movie theater lobbies?

  5. Can’t see much benefit to having one in a movie theater lobby. THe movie lets out when it lets out. Now, a coffee shop next to a movie theater, on the other hand …

  6. John Reinhold Says: Check with the Lloyd TMA. The Mac store in the building at 700 NE Multnomah might be a good spot, and also the lobby/coffee shop/bank lobby of the Lloyd Tower at NE Multnomah and NE 9th has good wifi… Barnes and Noble and Village Inn both have wifi too.

    Lloyd TMA funded the installation of 10 flat screen displays on Multnomah (along with two at the 7th Ave MAX station), including one out in front of the Mac store.

  7. Jason –

    While newfangled digital devices might say “Powered by Intel”, Spokane’s can say “Powered by Hope”. :-)

  8. As someone with experience in commercial applications for WiFi and public space computing (think hotels and coffee shops) this is interesting, but the systems aren’t that complicated. With most WiFi providers if you can give some basic details about the system and NIC that will be connecting they’ll make things work for you.

    If the location has multiple login schemes this could be due to multiple reasons. I’ve worked with hotels that had a national coffee chain in the lobby where we had to play nice with the system they already had in place. We were free for guests, they were free for one hour for paying customers, and we each had a separate network for our own users.

    Yes, it’s confusing. Try supporting it, that’s even more fun.

  9. well, I do not know if TRIMET puts “electric trolleybuses or what articulated buses” hold? or what result with General Manager’s comments? I do not know if there maybe decline or not comments? I do not know about information. I told my Senators about my disappointed with TRIMET! Thanks..

  10. David –

    Were you intending to comment in a different thread, perhaps? This discussion is about electronic information displays. There is another new topic related to TriMet and trustworthiness that Scotty just posted this evening.

  11. There are already widgets for TriMet and Streetcar arrivals available for the Google home page widget system. I would think doing this for Boarrd would be pretty straightforward (but not my particular passion).

  12. Chris,

    Check in with Ryan at Lents Commons- 9201 SE Foster Rd. Also, I have a couple senior residences we could check in with- off the top of my head, Station Place in Gresham might be a good place to start.

  13. So I should buy a $200 gadget to find out when and if Trimet’s next bus arrives? Why don’t they tell me that. It is called customer service.

  14. Hi Bluecollar Libertarian –

    TriMet will indeed share that data with you. Any web-capable device can access that information via the TriMet.org web site, and there are a number of great apps (including free ones) for various smartphones which do it, doo.

    I personally like the “PDXBus” app for the iPhone. Of course, you have to buy a phone, and TriMet won’t buy a phone for you, but buying your on device is the “libertarian” thing to do, right?

  15. PS… People with old-fashioned “cell phones” and antique “land line phones” can also call TriMet’s automated voice system at 503-238-RIDE. (That’s 503-238-7433 for those with phones that don’t have letters printed on the number keys.)

    People with rotary-dial phones, however, are discriminated against and must call only during traditional “daytime” business hours.

  16. PPS… TriMet heavily promotes these services. Is it possible that “Bluecollar Libertarian” is trolling this web site with little knowledge of current TriMet operations?

  17. (Why would a “Libertarian” kvetch about needing to buy anything? Is a “Libertarian” seeking a handout from TriMet? It seems confusing.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *