The Hex Tag

This week at a transport conference in Berlin, UrbanThings CEO Carl Partridge unveiled the Hex Tag to operators from Europe and further afield.

This represents the first public outing of a core technology innovation behind Ticketless.

 

A Hex Tag is a 3-in-1 combination of NFC, QR and Bluetooth used to uniquely identify a vehicle. By letting a passenger’s smartphone know the exact vehicle they’re travelling on, we can do something pretty exciting. We can flip tradition on its head and use your phone as a sole, trusted ticket validator. The result: a MaaS-ready, future-proof validation and fare collection system for 95% less capital investment than old-fashioned ticket machines.

Hex Tag, say hello to buses, trains, bikes, e-taxis, rental scooters, autonomous vehicles — the flexibility and low cost of the format means that it can sit within any mobility service. The Ticketless app uses them to track not only when you’ve entered a vehicle, but also when you get off. This new, innovative form of Be-In/Be-Out ticketing ensures that passengers pay the best price for the transport that they use.

 

More functionality, lower price. Seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? It makes you wonder why something like this wasn’t done sooner.

The Hex Tag is the culmination of a lot of big advancements in mobile tech in recent years. It isn’t until now that all the pieces fit so perfectly together in the palms of passengers’ hands.

Widespread 4G data coverage, robust biometric security, cross-platform NFC, leaner smarter Bluetooth… For the first time, people are now carrying fully secure smart payment systems in their pockets. Hex Tags allow transport operators to harness that power without any of the overheads of traditional hardware solutions.

Ticketless and Hex Tags are more than just a way for operators to get low cost m-Ticketing. They’re a vision for the future. A future of smaller-occupancy on-demand transport vehicles which aren’t built to house bulky ticket machines. A future of sustainable cities with cycle share schemes. A future where people are free to design their own travel systems to suit their needs.

A flexible future needs a system that can be deployed in days, not months, and doesn’t price innovative new players out of the game.

One last thing. We’re not keeping Hex Tags to ourselves; we are releasing the format as an open specification for vehicle identification. These embedded vehicle IDs can integrate seamlessly and affordably with third party apps, unlock innovations in customer service, fault reporting, route optimisation, driver training… We can’t wait to see what the community comes up with.


We can’t wait to share with you some examples of Hex Tags in action. Stay tuned over the coming months to learn more!

Transport for a Healthier Bristol

The lowdown from our last hackathon

Last weekend saw the latest in our series of Bristol API hackathons, hosted alongside Connecting Bristol.

We managed to round up a bunch of the area’s brightest minds and put them to work with the challenge of using open data to solve local issues in creative ways.

We kicked things off bright and early at our scenic riverside venue with a rundown of the Bristol API and its capabilities. After that, everyone found their teammates and it was down to work with lots of discussions and sketches.

If there’s one thing that was going to take tear these bright minds away from their projects, it was pizza. Initially worried we’d ordered way too much, we were very quickly proven wrong!

After lunch, with the finish line looming, it was heads down in the final sprint before presenting. Against all odds, we managed to get a full house of presentations ready to deliver at the end of the day.

Here’s a rundown of what everyone came up with:


The Projects

FitCity was a prototype app with the aim of encouraging sustainable transport and exercise.

Users would represent their local area and compete for the top spot on the leaderboard by ditching cars and cabs in favor of walking, cycling, and public transport. The greener the mode of transport, the more points a user would get.

Daily goals would encourage players to get off the bus one stop earlier or take a stroll through local scenery instead of jumping in a car.

The benefits of the app weren’t just for the players, though. Collecting data would allow the devs to identify fit and unfit areas and drill down into why people from certain areas are less likely to use sustainable modes of transport, which could affect policy going forward.

We then heard from Team Efficace, whose project involved crunching the numbers on vehicle emissions and determining whether buses were as clean compared to cars as they claim to be.

Buses allegedly spend most of their time empty or with very few passengers. It was calculated that for some journeys in Bristol, a Euro 3 standard bus can output 16 times more NOx than a diesel car.

While a claim that a car is greener than a bus in some circumstances might ruffle a few feathers in the SusTrans industry, it made a very good case for demand-responsive bus transport. It could definitely benefit the environment to adjust vehicle sizes depending on demand, instead of having large vehicles on loops throughout the day.

Up next, we had l’Art Bus. A prototype travel companion that showcased local art and music along a route. The team foresaw stale or empty advertising space on buses being repurposed to showcase local artists and taking people’s eyes off of their phones during bus journeys.

Studies have shown that taking time to appreciate art is great for mental relaxation. And with an estimated 1 in 4 people suffering from some form of mental illness, it’s difficult to overstate the potential for positive impact having art displays on public transport.

The team also saw the art as a potential conversation starter for bus passengers. Artists could also be supported by Bristol Pound donations, to support the local economy.

Last to take the stage were Two Men and a GIS Guy who presented a visualization of commuter patterns in the ward various wards of Bristol.

They determined how many people commuted by car into or through each ward in each cardinal direction, but the bulk of their focus was on what percentage of commuters drove to jobs within the same ward.

The primary aim of the study was to identify hotspots for short-distance (under 5km) commutes by car and theorize as to why more sustainable modes of transport aren’t used instead. Avonmouth stood out as an area where a large proportion of the population drives less than 500m to work.

The implication of this was that councils should dedicate more time to understanding potential transport-related issues in locations outside of the city center.The


The Results

The judges had their work cut out for them. All four projects applied novel approaches to unique issues and made good use of open data in their approaches. But in the end, a decision had to be made:

The day’s runners-up were l’Art Bus.

They made extensive use of the Bristol API and put it towards aiding a cause that was at the forefront of a lot of minds so close to Mental Health Awareness Day. There’s the potential for a lot of funding in the area, it would be great to see the project developed further.

We’re very pleased to announce that the first place prize of the day went to Two Men and a GIS Guy.

The trio put together a very detailed and well-thought-through presentation on how the information on commuter routes could be used by councils to improve sustainable transport links in out-of-town areas.


And with that, it’s time to call it a day on another successful hackathon. Look forward to seeing you at the next one in the new year!

UrbanThings Joins ITxPT

Working towards standardised transport IT systems

We’re proud to announce that we’ve joined ITxPT as an associate member.

The Information Technology for Public Transport initiative aims to develop standards for Plug & Play IT solution for public transport operators. With the collective expertise and efforts of global industry leaders, they hope to ensure that the rollout of quality, innovative transport technology is as smooth as possible.

As new mobility services emerge, UrbanThings hopes to play a vital part in generating passenger data and facilitating ticketless travel. The ability to interoperate with a wide variety of fleets is a vital foundation of this.

Bus Checker: Now More Than Just Buses

We’re expanding Bus Checker to cover trains, trams, metro and more

6 years ago, London Bus Checker became London’s first live bus times app. Gone were the days of leaving to catch a bus and praying to the gods of traffic and timetables that you wouldn’t be out in the cold for too long.

3 million downloads later and it’s been a wild ride. Expanding from London to cover the whole of the UK, major cities in the US and even Santiago, Chile.

Starting today, we’re bringing users the ability to go beyond buses and see live times for rail, underground and more.

London users will be able to boot up the app and see their closest tube, overground and tram stops alongside the usual bus stops.

Naturally, you’ll be able to add the new stops and stations to your favourites to see them in the widget and get live times on your Apple Watch too.

We’re excited to bring this to all of you and we can’t wait for you to try it out. Now Bus Checker has you covered, no matter how you travel.

If you haven’t already, get your hands on it today:

UK Bus Checker: Android, iOS
London Bus Checker: Android, iOS

The #makebristolmobile hackathon: What went down

Our 4th hackathon co-hosted with Bristol City Council was a success! Read all about some of the great ideas our hackers came up with.

 

First things first, a huge thank you to OVO Energy for hosting us at their beautiful HQ, to Bristol City Council for running proceedings with us and, of course, everyone who turned up on the day to put their app-making skills to the test.

Four teams of developers, designers and hobbyists put their heads together to come up with creative and practical solutions to issues faced by sustainable transport in the area. They had access to The Bristol API and our brand new iOS and Android SDKs, the rest was up to their imagination.

A day’s worth of pizza and beer later and it’s our pleasure to show off what they built.

Continue reading “The #makebristolmobile hackathon: What went down”

UrbanThings Announces Partnership with Ticketer

Mobile app specialists UrbanThings have recently entered into a partnership with leading ticketing platform Ticketer. The two companies will jointly develop a range of innovative mobile applications.

The partnership will involve close collaboration between the two companies, with UrbanThings developing pioneering mobile apps for Ticketer with features ranging from live public transit times to intelligent journey planning and future innovative applications.

Continue reading “UrbanThings Announces Partnership with Ticketer”

Visit to Downing Street

I was delighted to be invited to 10 Downing Street today, as part of a group of small businesses led by Enterprise Nation.

The purpose of our visit was to meet with Daniel Korski, the Prime Minister’s deputy policy advisor, to relay our feedback with regards to government support of small businesses.  I was pleased to prepare the following points for contribution to the discussion:

Carl P at Number 10Public Transportation Data should be Public

UrbanThings empowers intelligent mobility and we do this by working with public datasets of transportation data.  However, there exists no mandate for bus and rail operators to release such valuable information as Open Data.  Given that such operators are subsidised by the public purse, and the obvious value of this data, we think that such a mandate is necessary and should form a key part of the actual franchise agreement to which operators subscribe.  A great place to make a start at enforcing this would be the forthcoming Buses Bill.

Anecdotally, we have heard that some operators are opposed to these measures not because of any fundamental opposition to the concept of data sharing, but because of a fear that greater scrutiny of their data might result in levies or fines, for example, from the Transport Commissioner.  We would urge the government to offer the necessary reassurance to operators that opening up their data for the wider good would not lead to such punitive measures.

We would draw attention to Transport for London’s Open Data policy, a perfect example of an unrestricted policy that has reaped rewards in the nation’s capital.  TfL make all their operational data available for free, and this approach has fostered a rich marketplace of application development that, in turn, encourages increased footfall back to the operator, completing the perfect circle.

London Tech Recruitment is Tough!

We’re fortunate to have an amazing team here at UrbanThings, but getting the right people has seemed, at times, impossible.  A basic supply shortage combined with an anecdotal talent drain into fintech can make it extremely hard for SMEs to recruit the top talent that they need to compete on a global stage.  While we’re not positioned to offer a cast-iron solution to these woes, we would suggest consideration of the following measures that would help SMEs to compete:

  • Extended financial support for SMEs in their crucial early stages, for example an increase to the Employment Allowance or the ability to reclaim the first £20,000 of PAYE for companies with less than 5 employees operating in the technology sector.
  • Address the issue of supply with an increased focus on technology and programming in UK curriculums from an early age.

I was most grateful to Daniel for listening to our wider points, to Enterprise Nation for arranging the visit and I very much hope that our feedback will be taken on board.  Sadly I also forgot to nick any Downing Street loo roll, so came away with only the memories.