University of Washington transportation engineers have created a new system that senses and collects data from bus riders’ mobile devices using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth signals. This system is created to “ensure that buses are meeting the greatest needs in a community”(Science Daily), and is a very inexpensive method to implement. At a cost of only $60 dollars per bus sensor, this system can be used to estimate travel times or even dictate how many buses are needed for certain events based on the volume of people that the sensor senses.
I think it is important to note that these buses’ sensors originally picked up over 20,000 Wi-Fi and Bluetooth addresses from mobile devices. This means that lots of people are connected to the network, making it hard for the bus to know who exactly is using their transportation and then giving them inaccurate information. This is because they haven’t yet figured out how to keep the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth services to pick up only bus riders’ addresses. Another important thing to note is that since these MAC (Media Access Control) addresses are detected from Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, privacy could be jeopardized—however, not to worry, because when detected, researchers have been able to make anonymous these addresses for privacy protection. A third thing I would like to comment on is that transit agencies are always looking for information to give decisions on—whether or not to add buses, change routes, what time buses are most popular, etc. This MAC sensor system would provide the agencies with this exact information at such a little cost.
There were a few things that I believe were overlooked in this article. For starters, if data relying on Wi-Fi and Bluetooth is their only form of information intake, the elderly and low-income populations might be left out due to the lack of technology. This was mentioned but I believe it should have been more of a concern considering that that accounts for a huge portion of the bus population. Secondly, I think it was overlooked that people such as bicyclists and pedestrians whose data could be picked up by the sensors and would also provide inaccurate information for the bus agencies. And thirdly, this data could only be extracted if each user has their Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on, thus, becoming not as exact and not accounting for all bus riders.