Recently released Shuttle Tracker a new public beta, called “the new Shuttle Tracker”, with a major new feature: location data from the crowd. Shuttle Tracker, a website that has been mapping and tracking RPI’s shuttles since 2009, is one of the oldest projects developed by the Rensselaer Center for Open Source. Polytechnic school interviewed the Shuttle Tracker team about the new features of the Tracker.
Highlighting the changes, project manager Gabriel Jacoby-Cooper ’24 explained the reason for the improved Shuttle Tracker by giving the example of a student running to catch a shuttle, only to find out “that [data] that was two minutes ago, [and] by the time you get off it’s already passed – sucks and we want to fix that. As mentioned by Jacoby-Cooper, the GPS data collected by Shuttle Tracker from campus shuttles is only updated every few minutes. The Shuttle Tracker team plans to solve this problem by using “the GPS hardware that is already in every pocket: their cell phones.” By creating native apps for iOS and Android, [we] will allow users to contribute to better location accuracy for all users. Jacoby-Cooper also pointed out that the app for iOS is already in beta and can be downloaded– while its Android counterpart is still under development. He explained that the two apps will strive for feature parity, which means the two different platforms will hopefully have the same capabilities.
The issue of privacy and security has arisen with the use of location data. When asked about this, the Shuttle Tracker team explained some design considerations implemented to address these concerns. For example, Shuttle Tracker only tracks user location data when the user presses the “Board Bus” button on the app and ends when the user presses the “Leave Bus” button. User location data, which is sent every five seconds, is not directly linked to a specific individual, as only an instance-specific random ID is sent to the server, which is used to track expiration. Datas. In addition, data points longer than 30 seconds are automatically deleted. Shuttle Tracker also has an internal policy against using third-party APIs, aside from necessary APIs like Apple Maps and Google Maps to display data, and instead aims to keep everything in-house. For the curious, further details can be found in the Shuttle Tracker app, which displays an explanation of all data collected by the app and the policy for collecting and processing that data.
The new Shuttle Tracker also has additional design and functionality changes currently in beta. In particular, the beta version’s web interface is significantly less cluttered and more useful. The Shuttle Tracker team explained that this change was a direct result of user feedback, as most users use the website on their mobile devices, which have a smaller screen. The new Shuttle Tracker also strives to deliver a native user experience using Apple Maps for Apple devices and Google Maps for Android devices. Algorithmically, the new Shuttle Tracker now tries to assess the quality of the location data and indicates this to the end user by displaying red and green buttons, with green indicating high quality data and red indicating low data. quality. The Shuttle Tracker team says this feature will become significantly more important as more and more users start providing location data.
In the future, Shuttle Tracker plans to implement Application extracts on iOS and Instant apps on Android that would allow Shuttle Tracker to run temporarily on a user’s device without needing to be installed in order to increase the adoption of the crowdsourcing feature. However, the team emphasizes that this would require obtaining approval from the Bureau of Parking and Transportation to display the necessary QR codes or NFC tags at shuttle stops. The team is also actively exploring ways to get users to use location tracking, such as community milestones or, with user permission, leaderboards. One feature that was removed in the beta is directional data to indicate where the shuttle is heading. The team explained that this feature will likely return in future updates.
Some users may have noticed that the new Shuttle Tracker has been activated and deactivated several times with the old version of Shuttle Tracker as the active version on the Shuttle Tracker site. Asked about this, Jacoby-Cooper cited internal politics as the main reason, explaining that “Shuttle Tracker is an RCOS project, but it is not independently managed…[it] is managed by the student government, in particular, the WebTech committee …[and] they had some issues with the old Shuttle Tracker and wanted us to redirect to the new one… Later they fixed something with the old Shuttle Tracker, and they asked us to remove the redirect.
He explained that the beta version of Shuttle Tracker will eventually replace the older version, pending bug fixes and improvements such as compatibility with older web browsers. The beta version of Shuttle Tracker also encountered reliability issues on the server side. However, the team emphasizes that these types of issues are to be expected, are actively managed, and do not impact functionality because the old Shuttle Tracker remains active.
Asked about RCOS in general, Jacoby-Cooper said, “RCOS is awesome,” adding that “Shuttle Tracker is a great testament to the strength of RCOS… In many schools, the cool projects that students build for other students. die quickly as soon as they graduate… Projects are transmitted formally [here]. The Shuttle Tracker team encourages anyone interested in programming to join RCOS while specifically welcoming any new potential members. If anyone is interested in joining RCOS, meetings are held at Sage on Tuesdays and Fridays from 4 p.m. at 6:00 p.m. for the specific project they are interested in. RCOS is also available to obtain academic credits when registering for courses.