Here Comes the Bus


App screenshot


App screenshot

Everyone waiting for a bus wonders "When is it coming?" and "Will I get a seat?" Soon, more riders will be in the know.

Tiramisu — a smartphone app developed at Carnegie Mellon University that enables transit riders to share bus arrival times and seating availability in real time — is going commercial.

CMU spinoff Tiramisu Transit LLC has received Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) to commercialize the app.

The $102,000 award, through the USDOT's Federal Transit Administration and its Research and Innovative Technology Administration, will be used to identify sustainable business models for crowd-sourced transit information systems.

Tiramisu has been in use in Pittsburgh since the summer of 2011. Thus far, users have recorded more than 30,000 trips on Port Authority of Allegheny County buses and trains.

Tiramisu — literally, Italian for "pick me up" — was developed by researchers in the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Accessible Public Transportation (RERC-APT), supported in part by CMU's Traffic21 initiative.

Even before a user boards a vehicle, Tiramisu displays the nearest stops and a list of buses or light rail vehicles that are scheduled to arrive. The list includes arrival times, based either on real-time reports from current riders, from historic data, or from the transit service schedule.

Once aboard, the user indicates whether many, few or no seats are available and then presses a button, causing the phone to share its ongoing GPS trace with the Tiramisu server. Tiramisu also can be used to report problems, positive experiences and suggestions.

The Tiramisu team is led by Aaron Steinfeld, co-director of RERC-APT and senior systems scientist in CMU's Robotics Institute; Anthony Tomasic, senior systems scientist in CMU's Institute for Software Research; and John Zimmerman, associate professor in CMU's Human-Computer Interaction Institute and CMU's School of Design.

Tiramisu is among the initial projects to reach deployment and commercialization with help from the Traffic21 initiative, which was created by CMU with support from the Hillman Foundation.

Tiramisu is another example of the kind of innovation that is embedded within the culture of the university and behind CMU's Greenlighting Startups initiative, which is uniquely designed to provide entrepreneurs the keys to success.

Tiramisu currently works only for the Port Authority and CMU systems, but the software architecture is designed so that it can be deployed to other transit systems. The team will be adding another region soon.

Tiramisu is available for download now: Android 2.1 | iOS 4.0 devices.

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Related Links: Read more | Tiramisu | Greenlighting Startups

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