The Bus Uncertainty Principle

Too many times have I given up on waiting for a bus at tech square only to have one arrive shortly after I’ve left the stop. Sure, there is an app that shows where buses are, but sometimes it fails to update or a bus won’t show up on the route. The area could definitely benefit from a vocal interface to announce the ETA of a nearby bus or warn you if it’s going to be a while.

There are three bus stops near the 5th and Spring intersection which makes it an ideal place for bus travel. However, if I’ve learned anything about getting around at Georgia Tech, it’s that buses are unreliable. Especially when they are trying to navigate through the traffic of Tech Square and the Marta stop. Currently people will gather in a medium sized crowd and just wait for up to five minutes for a bus to arrive at the stop. Then sometimes the bus will already be full of passengers, which means waiting for the next bus. This is very inefficient, and causes the sidewalk to get crowded near the stops.

A simple announcement of when the next bus will arrive would save everyone the hassle of waiting by the bus stop for an indefinite amount of time until an available bus pulls up. Instead they could go sit down in a nearby seating area to keep the sidewalks clear or engage in activity they know they will have time for. This would need to be a speech directed interface to be able to provide accurate information about bus ETAs, though a jingle could be used to announce a buses arrival. The voice needs to be clear and understandable with a fairly neutral tone. Many trains use announcers with these vocal characteristics to warn about the doors closing or to provide information on upcoming stops. A Siri-like voice would work well for the task. I believe this interface,while not absolutely crucial, would be helpful with minimizing the amount of time people waste standing and waiting for buses to arrive.

This is an example of what this interface could sound like (though the voice could use some work)

Don’t Miss Your Bus

While observing the intersection at 5th St. and West Peachtree St., I realized that the GT bus stop is a poor interface. We saw a guy miss his bus because the bus did not stop at the bus stop, either because the driver did not see him at the stop or because he was not paying attention to the bus pulling up. Catching the bus is an important task for GT students at this intersection, but it is not used with efficiency without a sound interface.

The bus stop is dependent on two different users: the driver and the waiting passengers. A sound interface for the driver at the bus stop would not be useful. A sound to catch the driver’s attention to inform them that someone is waiting for the bus would have to be very loud, which would be quite obnoxious for the people and restaurants nearby. A sound interface for the passengers would be more practical, as it would be quieter and would make catching the bus much easier.

The interface would have to accommodate two types of people at the bus stop, people on their phones and people sitting on benches. There is a set of benches right next to the stop that are popular for sitting and waiting. However, people sitting there may not see the next bus coming, and the benches are at a distance from the actual stop so the bus may not stop for them. Other passengers are usually on their phone or standing off to the side, not actively watching for a bus. Thus, a sound could easily remind both types when a bus is arriving or how long it will been until the next bus to ensure the passengers are ready for when the bus arrives.

This sound interface should be a voice combined with a tone. A tone alone would blend with the busy street soundscape and would be ignored easily. A tone with a voice would easily catch the attention of people waiting nearby. The tone shouldn’t be shrill, but it must be a higher pitch, like a bell, in order to draw people’s attention to it. The voice should sound authoritative, to give a sense of urgency that the bus will soon be there, but not commanding, as if confronting the passengers. A confident, low voice will accomplish this well. The system to perform this could be attached or built into the sign post at the stop with the route map. Imagine sitting at the bench waiting for the bus and hearing “*Ding* The bus is arriving. Please be ready to board.” This would be a more pleasant experience compared to getting anger from missing the bus you’ve been waiting for.

Tech’s Talking Technology in Crosswalks

Drivers and pedestrians are two major forces that share the bustling Tech Square intersection in their busy commutes. As drivers devote their full attention to changing factors in their environment down the road, pedestrians walk along the sidewalk while intently focused on looking at their phones rather than where they’re going, and their paths inevitably overlap at the crosswalk. As such, an interface located at crosswalk signs that communicates vocal signals would greatly benefit both commuting parties by providing audible guidance to these visually distracted users.

This system would alert pedestrians by repeatedly vocalizing the term “Walk” when it is safe to cross the road and counting down the remaining time left to cross. A firm “Stop” would be issued afterwards and followed by silence to indicate that it is not appropriate to cross the road. The interface’s voice should command a certain level of authority to emphasize the stern nature of obeying traffic laws but should also possess an encouraging and warm aspect to its personality in consideration of the nervous emotions that pedestrians often feel when crossing a busy street. Thus, a higher pitched female voice with consistent pitch range and moderate speech rate would characterize the interface’s slightly introverted personality and successfully facilitate a steady and calming environment very much needed by anxious pedestrians in busy intersections.  The higher pitch would also make the speech more easily discernible amidst often lower pitched traffic noises. Volume is the only aspect of the voice that should actively vary, a task that can be accomplished by installing a microphone at each interface to record the noise level and adjust the projected speaking volume accordingly. This would ensure that the speech can be heard easily and comfortably by all users during various times when the noise level may be higher or lower.

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