DIY sign provides real-time commuting info to office workers
By Stu Robarts
May 28, 2014
Ever dashed to catch your train only to get to the station and realize it's running late? Or left home without an umbrella when you need one? iStrategyLabs came up with a solution for just such problems. Transit is a conveniently-placed sign displaying real-time commuter info from the internet.
Despite the fact that most of us need only glance at our smartphones to check public transport and weather info, it's easy to forget to do so and be caught out. Sometimes, the only way we pay attention to such information is when it's served to us conspicuously. That was the thinking of Taylor Guidon, a creative technologist at iStrategyLabs – the same place that brought us the SELFIE mirror and pizza delivery button.
"Since our team is constantly on the go, I thought it would be helpful to manipulate travel data in a fun, easily digestible way," he explains in a blog post. "Thus Transit was born."
Transit is an LED matrix sign that displays data about the next four trains arriving at the office's nearest metro station, how many bikes are available at its nearest bikeshare station, and the current local temperature. The data is pulled in from APIs provided by the service and weather forecast providers. The Electric Imp platform is used to do so, which is a means of connecting devices to the internet. An Arduino microprocessor then reads the data from the Electric Imp and powers the LEDs.
"The focal point for building this unit was displaying information," Guidon explains to Gizmag. "So, once the LEDs were sourced, everything was built around that. I knew that I wanted it to have a Metro feel to it, so I wanted the LEDs to be red and I wanted the unit to be placed off of a wall. I used MDF for the spine to give it a strong structure and then laser cut the box on the outside to give it more of a sign feel."
Guidon first created everything on a breadboard and tested it with a serial connection to his computer, so as to ensure that the code was working properly and that an appropriate power supply was being used. The unit was then moved onto the MDF.
"The biggest issue was learning how to handle the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority API," Guidon continues. "They have a great API, but their trains do not run 24/7, so there needed to be logic in place to handle blank data being pushed over night. I did not want to take the easy way out and have it shut off at night, so there is code in place to detect the Metro is closed and display that information properly. Since I am also pulling in data frequently, there needed to be proper error handling in place so the sign would not crash."
Once completed, the unit was mounted on the wall between the two elevators at the iStrategyLabs offices and set to refresh every 30 seconds. The information is, therefore, very current and highly visible as people leave the office.
The frame and electronics for Transit were assembled in a day and the code was all but completed in three days. After that, there were a couple of week's worth of API bug-fixing and minor tweaks. The whole set of raw materials cost around US$250.
The video below provides a brief introduction to Transit.
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