Buses get Wi-Fi

Northern Kentucky University is leading the way in expanding technology involved in public transportation. The College of Informatics partnered with the Transit Authority of Northern Kentukcy to expand mobile Wi-Fi to all buses on routes that service NKU. This free service works with any type of mobile device.

Hirsch led a team of several faculty members and about 40 students to develop the technology necessary to bring this free service to NKU’s campus. “My job was to oversee everything from the research to the development to testing to deployment,” he said.

This project is one part of a four-year federal grant to develop mobile transportation. Last year, TANK put Wi-Fi on 20 express route buses in its fleet. “Adding Wi-Fi was something we really wanted to do to encourage young professionals to ride,” Douthat said. “But we saw that NKU really wasn’t benefiting, so we decided to expand.”

The expansion is part of the ongoing effort of NKU to acheive the goals of Vision 2015. One of the goals is to improve the public transit system.

The mobile Wi-Fi service is based on cell phone technology. Basically, a regular cellular signal is altered to become a normal wireless network, Hirsch said. Riders connect to this network the same way they do any other wireless network.

A survey to monitor how the service is functioning and keep track of how many people are using the system is built in as well, Hirsh said. Users can provide feedback about how well the Wi-Fi is working through the survey.

“When a representative from the FTA (Federal Travel Administration) came out to inspect the service, he was really impressed,” Hirsch said. “He said they needed something like it in Washington D.C.”

The next step of the program is implementing Google Transit which works with Google Maps to enable people to plan a step-by-step trip aboard public transportation. That system is currently offered in 25 cities nationwide and in eight other countries, according to Google Transit’s Web site.

“We were one of the first 15 organizations to look at it,” Hirsch said. Hirsch is working with students and other faculty members to develop technology able to understand TANK’s schedules and routes and put them in the system.

Douthat said the new system will help encourage people who are hesitant to take public transportation because they are not sure where to go. The target date for TANK Google Transit is by Summer 2008, but Hirsch said it should be finished before then.