I wanted to split the 'pinger' idea off from last week's discussion on DIYcity Challenge #3, and focus on it by itself, outside of the context of the NYC MTA questions.
It seems to me that a simple pinging application built into users' phones could potentially be hugely valuable to cities for a variety of uses.
The app would take the GPS info from the user's phone, along with unique ID, and one or two other parameters, and send that at regular intervals to a centralized server.
That server would then receive that info and be able to plot the location, course and speed of the person hosting that app.
If the other parameters included in each ping included, for example, the ID of a particular bus, or a bus route, or a highway number, or any other data that gave that ping concrete meaning, the ping could then act as a very simple mechanism for tracking movement - either movement of traffic in general, or of transit systems, or whatever.
As others have pointed out, you wouldn't need that many devices participating to be able to draw general conclusions about traffic movement or transit locations.
What you've got then is a distributed, DIY tracking system that would be for all intents and purposes free to cities to implement (as opposed to the hundreds of millions in setup and however much in maintenance that a centralized system would cost).
For cities that already have tracking systems, this could be cheaper to maintain. For cities that don't yet have them this could be a way to get them without spending millions.
Big problems include:
- getting adoption by a critical mass of users (and what defines critical mass in this case?)
- finding an easy way to get those extra parameters into the ping (asking users to enter bus IDs into their phones each time they ride the bus isn't an acceptable route in my opinion).
What do others think about this? Is there anything here, or is this a pipe dream? Could this be of service to cities anywhere?
I'm especially curious to hear opinions from people with actual expertise in any of the areas this touches on.