A few months ago, I spoke with Alex Bell, an engineering student at Columbia and the brother of an old friend of mine, about his transit app. His idea was simple: crowdsource train locations through user-submitted messages. Unfortunately, the app never reached the critical mass of users it needed to br successful, but Bell isn’t giving up.
As The Times reports today, Bell has signed up with Densebrain, a mobile company that wants to use passive cell signals to triangulate train locations. With the approval of each user, Densebrain’s app reads when the cell signal is lost and notes when and where service is restored. For instance, if someone loses signal just south of 161st St. in the Bronx and resurfaces at Grand Central, the app knows that this user took a 4 train, and it can provide real-time info on that train’s location. With over 600,000 users of its free NYCMate subway map app, Densebrain thinks it has the user base to support such a project.
Of course, concerns over privacy remain to be tested. Will users consent to anonymous location tracking? And how will the app distinguish between different trains that run the same route? For now though, Densebrain’s plan is another in the effort to tell us just where our trains are and when, and that sounds promising to me. [New York Times]