Google Organizing the World’s Transit Information (Using Your Phone)

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If you’ve ever taken the Caltrain from San Francisco to San Jose, you’ve had a chance to see the corridor where many of today’s top internet related companies call their home, including Google and Yahoo.

A patent application from Google seems inspired by that ride, finding a way to understand transportation routes through the smartphones and handheld devices of commuters taking trains, buses, and planes.

If you find yourself hurrying to catch a train, you could use the system described in this patent filing to check and see if the train is running on time, or if it may be late, not because the commuting service is providing updates, but rather from information aggregated from the cell phone connections of the people onboard.

In the Google Labs, Google Transit provides some information about public transportation, with the most extensive coverage of tranportation information available in Japan, covering all regional and national rail networks, domestic airlines and ferries. But the system described in this patent document goes far beyond making published schedules, routes, and stopping points available to people traveling.

This was published at the World Intellectual Property Organization, but isn’t available yet at the US Patent and Trademark office.

Vehicle Information Systems and Methods
Publication Number: WO/2007/061734
International Application No.: PCT/US2006/044455
Publication Date: 31.05.2007
International Filing Date: 16.11.2006
Invented by Lalitesh Katragadda, and Sanjay Jain

Abstract:

In some of the embodiments described herein, a vehicle information system may be used to generate route map information, schedule information, estimated time of arrival information, or the like based upon location information received from passenger-carried or cargo-carried wireless devices, such as passengers’ cellular phones.

In such circumstances, a remote device (e.g., a display device at a vehicle station, a network-connected personal computer, or a cellular phone of a person who might board a mass transit vehicle) may access the route map information, schedule information, and other information related to one or more mass transit vehicles.

When you ride public transportation, you usually have to rely upon published route maps and vehicle schedules to find which vehicle to take, where the stops are located, and when the plain, train, or bus departs from those locations.

It’s possible for route maps and vehicle schedules to be erroneous, out-of-date, or adjusted for weather, broken tracks, road construction, and other problems.

While the patent application does mention the Caltrain specifically, it also discusses some of the issues of transit systems in developing counties:

For example, in some developing nations, train schedules are published for the benefit of train passengers, but the schedules are frequently erroneous — sometimes causing passengers to wait for hours after the published arrival time.

Moreover, in some developing nations, the train schedules are not even published, thereby leaving passengers with past experience and word-of-mouth to determine the appropriate arrival and departure time of the trains.

Some transportation systems do have ways of monitoring the locations of their vehicles, but those tend to be complex and expensive. The inventors tell us that many transportation providers, especially in developing nations, don’t take advantage of monitoring systems.

The heart of this system is that riders often carry wireless devices and cellular phones. Gathering and filtering information from those systems, as to the locations of their passengers may allow a transportation information system to track and display information about route map information and schedule information. Some of this aggregated information requires making some inferences when riders devices are seen to be moving together.

While tracking the locations of travelers, the system involved may also display news, traffic, or weather alert services based upon those locations. It might also display advertisements for local businesses.

This system could provide:

  • Route map information,
  • Vehicle schedule information,
  • Estimated time of arrival,
  • Route information updated continuously,
  • Current and accurate information that could be received via alerts,
  • Detailed information that could help in planning the use of a service,
  • Mapping information, including vehicle paths and stops that are hidden or unmapped,
  • Estimates of how long a vehicle might stay at particular stops,
  • Location-based news and searches, location-based factoids or Zeitgeist alerts,

Using a system like this could also reduce the costs and required maintenance for a monitoring system mounted to every vehicle in a fleet.

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2 thoughts on “Google Organizing the World’s Transit Information (Using Your Phone)”

  1. This was issued in the US:

    US Patent 7,469,827

    In some of the embodiments described herein, a vehicle information system may be used to generate route map information, schedule information, estimated time of arrival information, or the like based upon location information received from passenger-carried or cargo-carried wireless devices, such as passengers’ cellular phones. In such circumstances, a remote device (e.g., a display device at a vehicle station, a network-connected personal computer, or a cellular phone of a person who might board a mass transit vehicle) may access the route map information, schedule information, and other information related to one or more mass transit vehicles.

  2. Hi Edward,

    Thanks. I saw that one when it came out, and was pretty tempted to post about it. I may still do so. Interesting the things that Google is filing patents for these days.

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