Students will soon no longer have to guess whether the shuttle is worth the wait. In the next few weeks, Information Technology (IT) will finalize and launch a website that allows students to track the location of shuttle vans in nearly real time. The service has been in development over the past month and will be accessible online through the student gateway.
"The idea is that students will be able to check the shuttle locations from their dorm room or phone" to better estimate how long they will need to wait, explained IT committee member Chris Kan '13.
The service will use Google Latitude, Google's free, location-aware service that locates mobile devices through global positioning systems (GPS) and cell network triangulation. Each shuttle will be outfitted with an iPad, which will transmit the vehicle's location to Google.
The plan for a shuttle tracking service first came from an IT advisory committee, a student group that works directly with Chief Information Officer Mitch Davis.
"I'm excited to see students be able to monitor the shuttles, since the time to wait can really vary," said Davis. "If it's successful, we'll work on adding more predictive software so students can tell exactly how long until the shuttle arrives."
Associate Vice President of Communications Robert Kerr explained that the ultimate decision to use iPads came after considering several different approaches.
"We looked at a couple ways to do it, and an iPad is actually the cheapest, most effective way of tracking the shuttles," said Kerr. "Essentially, you're not seeing where the shuttle is, you're seeing where the iPad is."
According to Davis, the only recurring cost of the project is each iPad's monthly charge of $12 for the GPS service. Google's Latitude program is free to use with any compatible mobile device. An earlier plan to use iPhones was abandoned due to a much higher monthly charge, since the phones require an active cell phone plan.
"We found that other schools had similar services, but all were more expensive or more complicated," Davis said.
According to Kerr, an initial test of the service revealed that the Latitude system was functional, but "the accuracy wasn't up to stuff."
"We're going to pilot it and get feedback on it to find out what people like and don't like, then make enhancements accordingly," said Kerr, who said he anticipates few problems.
The service will be made fully available once beta testing to determine its technical functionality is complete. As such, its exact release date is unclear.
An iPhone app for the service is currently in development.
However, Hannah Tennent '14, who has "never had problems waiting for a shuttle before," felt that the service may not be useful for all students.
"Without a computer, it will only be helpful if you have a smartphone. I don't have a smartphone, and I won't be carrying my computer around when I'm waiting for a shuttle outside," she said.
Nonetheless, Kerr is confident that many students will benefit from shuttle tracking.
"It's an easy, quick thing that I think will be very useful," he said.
The iPads were purchased with funding from the IT department but if the trial system is successful, additional iPads will be paid for through another budget line.