Catching the bus from your living room: an LED display for tracking your local bus
Ian D. Westcott posted his great bus-tracking project on Medium.
In April of 2014 the MTA announced that they had finished rolling out their BusTime platform to every bus in New York City. BusTime is a system for showing the location of MTA buses in real time, developed in-house using the open-source OneBusAway platform and in partnership with OpenPlans.
Unlike proprietary systems (such as NextBus, which is used by San Francisco and many other US cities), the MTA has complete control over the BusTime system and its data. But the trade-off is that there isn’t a suite of flashy apps that already exist to make that data available to bus riders. The MTA has a mobile site and text-messaging service that work reasonably well, but they don’t offer the same convenience as native apps or integration with popular platforms such as Google Maps.
Still, the open nature of the BusTime platform means that anyone can build on it, and the MTA’s hope is that over time the developer community will come up with smart solutions that add value to the platform in interesting ways. This approach was intriguing to me, and since I am both a frequent bus rider and a proponent of open data, it got me thinking: If I could build anything I wanted to make riding the bus more convenient, what would I build? The most obvious choice would be a mobile app, but I have no iOS or Android development experience, so despite the relative lack of user-friendly BusTime apps in the iOS app store (seriously, if you know of a really good one, let me know because I’m still looking) I opted not go to that route to start. Instead, I focused on how I personally use the bus most often and what could make that easier…
16×24 Red LED Matrix Panel – Chainable HT1632C Driver: These LED panels take care of all the work of making a big matrix display. Each panel has six 8×8 red matrix modules, for a 16×24 matrix. The panel has a HT1632C chip on the back with does all the multiplexing work for you and has a 3-pin SPI-like serial interface to talk to it and set LEDs on or off (you cannot set the LED to be individually dimmed, as in ‘grayscale’). There’s a few extras as well, such as being able to change the brightness of the entire display, or blink the entire display at 1 Hz. Read more.
Adafruit CC3000 WiFi Breakout with Onboard Ceramic Antenna: The CC3000 hits that sweet spot of usability, price and capability. It uses SPI for communication (not UART!) so you can push data as fast as you want or as slow as you want. It has a proper interrupt system with IRQ pin so you can have asynchronous connections. It supports 802.11b/g, open/WEP/WPA/WPA2 security, TKIP & AES. A built in TCP/IP stack with a “BSD socket” interface. TCP and UDP in both client and server mode, up to 4 concurrent sockets. It does not support “AP” mode, it can connect to an access point but it cannot be an access point. Read more.
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