Today's launch of VT Bus Tracker, a tracking application for Blacksburg Transit buses, aims to reduce the formerly erratic art of catching a bus to a precise science.
The app delivers the up-to-the-second location, speed and number of passengers of each bus to users' mobile phones, letting bus riders know how long a wait will be.
"It reconciles schedule data with live data to predict where a bus will be at a future point in time," said Travis Webb, a member of the team that developed VT Bus Tracker.
Users can access the app in many ways.
According to the VT Bus Tracker website, there is a web-based version that can be accessed on a smart phone or through any computer.
There is also a native app available for iPhone, Android and BlackBerry, as well as a text message system for non-smart phones.
"This is revolutionizing public transportation," said SGA president Bo Hart at a press conference last week. "This is an exciting day for Virginia Tech, and for the students of Virginia Tech."
The original idea developed almost two years ago in a software engineering capstone course taught by computer science professor Eli Tilevich.
Computer science students took interest in the project, but it was three particularly dedicated students — Webb, Michael Dillon and Alex Obenauer — who volunteered their time to work with Tilevich and make the idea a reality.
"They've had this idea for two years," Hart said. "They crafted the concept and they brought it to fruition."
Tilevich and his team completed the vast majority of the work on the project over the summer, with help from the SGA.
"The SGA funded the project this summer in order that it would open at the same time as the parking garage," Tilevich said.
Webb, a computer science major, said Blacksburg Transit has also been helpful in working with the team.
"The BT has generously offered a lot of their time," he said.
He said BT already collects data about the buses for its own use, so no new devices were needed to create the VT Bus Tracker system.
"We have not put any hardware on the buses," Webb said. "Our idea was to take data that was already available and make it available toeveryone."
The program will also help future computer science students.
"It puts back into the computer science curriculum by giving faculty a real world data set for students to learn from," Obenauer said. "It makes the abstract and high level concepts more concrete."
The program was also recognized within the computer science department.
It won the overall and faculty's choice awards in the computer science department's undergraduate research competition last spring, according to Tilevich.
Though VT Bus Tracker will officially launch today, the team said the project is still in a beta phase.
"We really, really want feedback," Dillon said. "You guys are our users, and we want to make it the best that it can be."
The team's current members will continue to work on the project for the next several years and also hope to teach younger computer science students about the program so they can keep it running and up-to-date in the future.