TRACKING TROLLEYS: The Union trolley system enters the digital age with new GPS technology

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By Ryan Semerad

 

Since last fall, students and faculty at Union have been working on a trolley-tracking system using GPS-ready cellular devices inside each trolley. The system, which went online this year, uses a signal from the on-board devices to update a virtual map (located at trolley.union.edu) that will allow students to know exactly where the trolleys are at any given time.

Increased precision regarding the arrival and departure times of the trolleys will increase their efficiency and, hopefully, their popularity among students. If more students use the trolley system, then fewer students will be using their own vehicles and Union’s carbon footprint will be greatly reduced, which is the overall goal of the project.

The project was created because of a survey conducted bylast fall’s Environmental Science classes, which was fleshed out by Issac Rogers ‘10 as part of his senior thesis. Rogers was not alone in working on this project—far from it in fact. He worked alongside a team of students, faculty and staff including David Brown ‘10, Johanna Geoghegan ‘11, Sonika Raj ‘13, and Aung Soe ‘11; Professors Shane Cotter, Kristen Gentile, Janet Grigsby, and John Spinelli, Deans Doug Klein and Cherrice Traver; and  Transportation Supervisor Greg Olsen and Diana McNamara from the Telecommunications office.

“The actual web interface took about two terms to complete,” Dean of Engineering Cherrice Traver said. “It required programming the phone that is installed on the trolley [to send] coordinates over the cell network to Verizon and then to the web server that displays the trolley location on the map.” According to Traver, while bugs still exist in the system, they are being addressed “by a joint effort of the campus safety department and the trolley tracking group.”

When the project is optimized, the trolley’s locations may even be available via text message, said Geoghegan, who is the student representative to the Transportation Subcommittee of U Sustain.  Although most students have yet to hear about the project, the lack of advertisement is intentional. “Once everything is working flawlessly, we will advertise the trolley tracking system to the campus community,” Geoghegan said. Reducing Union’s carbon footprint is of the utmost importance to Geoghegan and U Sustain at-large. They hope this new system will do just that.

Many students don’t use cars to travel about the campus to begin with. “I walk most places on campus,” Adam Pere ‘13 said. “On the weekends I would use [the trolleys] if I needed to, but I can still walk most places,” Gozzie Onyiuke ‘13 said.

However, the problem some students have will be addressed by the new trolley tracking system. “I never know when the trolleys are arriving or departing,” Ashley Stamatis ‘13 said. The new system may improve the trolleys’ use by students like Stamatis, but their use remains uncertain amongst students willing to foot it.

The system still needs tweaking and could use some extra help from the campus community. Anyone interested in helping iron out some of the final issues should contact Dean Traver at traverc@union.edu.

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