The result is an overhead view of where people are getting on and off of a transit system, from which you can infer a lot of things. For instance, if someone swipes into the system at 5:30 p.m. and out at 6:30 p.m., you know their trip took an hour. But if that's only supposed to be a 40-minute trip, you can safely assume they missed a train or two due to overcrowding. A lot of people swiping in at once? A train is coming. A lot of people swiping out at once? A train just arrived.
Add buses and traffic data to the mix and you can see how events like school letting out can affect flows around the city and making it easier to identify bottlenecks. For the first time, city planners can get a full view of what's going on in close to real-time, giving them insight into what's needed to make improvements.
"We can figure out what's going on," said Shivakumar.
That information is not just of use to transit agencies, obviously: Urban Engines is in talks with delivery and logistics companies to help them optimize routes and better understand the way things move.
This week, Urban Engines released a mobile app for iOS and Android that brings what promises to be a better mapping experience, due in no small part to the fact that it pre-loads maps and its routing algorithms to the device for 10 U.S. cities, meaning you don't need connectivity or a data plan to access it once the app is downloaded. It also includes a nifty "X-Ray Vision" augmented reality mode that lets you see where you're going through the camera with a map overlaid to minimize the odds you get disoriented.
The idea is that all the data and algorithms Urban Engines is refining are useless if the information doesn't get into the hands of the people who are doing the moving -- and, perhaps more importantly, it gives Urban Engines another sensor to gather more data about those moving things.
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