This fall, University bus riders won’t have to guess when their ride home will roll up to the curb.

Jessica Boullion
Bus locations are available at http://ace.engin.umich.edu. (Courtesy of the University of Michigan)

A new computer-tracking system in its final testing stages will allow web users to view the exact position of all operating University buses at any given time.

Although the system is already online through the School of Engineering, a more finalized version of the system will premier next fall.

University undergraduate students designed the system, called Magic Bus, with the help of Engineering Prof. Chris Ruf. Magic Bus uses Global Positioning System and wireless technology to bring moving icons of University buses to computer screens.

Students and staff first began working on the project in the fall of 2004 with funding from Parking and Transportation Services. To make the system operational, the project team installed hardware in buses and developed supporting software.

While the system is already accessible to students on the Internet, Ruf said there are other ways to track buses.

“We have a text messaging computer so that you can text it and it will tell you in how many minutes the next bus will come,” Ruf said.

Riders can also access bus locations by sending a message to the Magic Bus buddy on America Online’s Instant Messenger.

Ruf said that the team plans to put up public monitors in Pierpont Commons and the Michigan Union.

The ongoing assessment of “Magic Bus” has produced positive results.

“We’ve been having Engineering 100 students evaluate our project,” said Prashanth Pandian, University alum and project manager. “Gauging the reaction from (the Engineering 100 students), a lot of people are excited for this.”

Engineering sophomore Mark Poll said he thinks people are looking forward to the new system.

“I think everyone was really excited about it,” Poll said. “Most students saw that it was pretty good but not quite there yet, so it made them pretty excited to be a part of it.”

According to David Miller, executive director for Parking and Transportation Services, the University decided to create its own program due to the high cost of a commercially available option.

“It’s something that we’ve thought about doing for years, but the cost to buy something like this commercially off the shelf is much higher,” Miller said. “Using a student group like this has made it affordable.”

Miller said that the system will not only tell students and staff when to step out to the curb, but it will also make it easier for transportation supervisors to receive feedback if buses are having mechanical or traffic problems.

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