App Wrap: "SubwayArrival"
NY1 highlights the coolest and newest apps for your cell phone or mobile device in the twice-weekly segment “App Wrap.” NY1’s Adam Balkin filed the following report.
To view our videos, you need to
install Adobe Flash 9 or above. Install now.
Then come back here and refresh the page.
A native New Yorker, a college student actually, may have cracked one of New York's most enduring mysteries: when is that subway going to show up? Alex Bell, as part of his electrical engineering grad studies at Columbia University, has figured out a way for your smartphone to figure out accurate train schedules through his SubwayArrival app -- no input from you required.
"The operating system of the phone is always keeping track of your base station or what actual tower you're connected to on a building. And when a base station change occurs we get an announcement to your phone," explains Bell. "What happens when you take a subway ride is you're attached to a base station say here, you go down the subway you lose reception, you travel a distance and then you reappear and connect to a new base station. And so your phone sees you've skipped all these base stations in between. You have this big jump -- you must've just taken a subway ride. We also use where you lost reception and where you emerge to what train you took and we use past data to determine whether that was a 'C' train or many an express 'A' train and from that we can map where the train has just been and propagate down the line where it will be."
Even though the app runs at all times in the background, Bell says it's designed not put extra strain on your battery. Here's the catch though: for the app to work properly a lot of people have to be using it and at the moment not nearly enough people have downloaded it.
"We have right now about 350 New Yorkers I would estimate. And for total coverage we estimate about 10,000 New Yorkers would be sufficient," says Bell. "We have statistical models meant to weed out bad data so when we get to full capacity the accuracy will be very accurate. Within one or two minutes you'll know when the train will arrive."
Right now, "SubwayArrival," which is free, is an iPhone only app. Bell says they're working next on getting it to Blackberries and then Androids after that. He also says if this proves successful the project could be applied to buses as well and then moved out to other big cities.