The answer to commuter boredom: Online acccess for buses and trains

October 13, 2005

Sydney, Australia: Commuters may no longer spend idle hours on the bus or train. University of New South Wales researchers are developing an innovative wireless network system for public transport that aims to give passengers total online access.

Called Ocean (On-board Communication Entertainment and Information ), the system will allow users to check their e-mails, browse the Web, play an online game and access business applications.

Led by Associate Professor Mahbub Hassan in the School of Computer Science and Engineering, a research team is developing a wireless public transport network protocol which can be embedded in chips on board buses and trains. This allows the vehicles to create a communication network.

One of the key technologies behind the innovation is Wireless Multihop. Each vehicle would have a small routing device that 'talks' to any bus or train passing by. As one vehicle passes, the commuters' computer automatically connects with the next one passing by.

"Our protocols are intelligent," said Associate Professor Hassan. "They can learn from previous histories which buses or trains are coming soon and which they can connect with. They can even allow for delays in traffic.

"Our computations using a metropolitan bus network show that there would always be three or four buses within contact at any time."

To avoid network congestion, the research team is working on a method for understanding user's typical behaviour. Called "semantic compression", the system dynamically profiles the user, determines the kinds of programs and information they normally access and filters their internet search so that only the most relevant data pops up.

"Public transport cuts down pollution, conserves energy and eliminates traffic congestion," said Associate Professor Hassan. "We must do everything possible to make public transport more attractive so it is used by more people.

"There are other benefits. On-board communication infrastructure will enable remote video surveillance of public transport vehicles leading the way to unprecedented passenger safety and security.

"The issue for us is to understand the overall architecture of the on-board networking infrastructure. The trend is that there will be TCP/IP network on-board a vehicle with a mobile router (MR) providing connectivity to the global Internet.

"Passenger and other vehicle devices will simply connect to the on-board local area network and start using the Internet just like the home or office. This architecture, although sounds very simple, raises several issues in networking and data management disciplines. These issues must be resolved for on-board mobile computing to really take off.

"Firstly, any error or outage in the wireless link will immediately affect a large number of users. Additionally, link outages in such systems can be frequent and long lasting -- for example, when a train going in and out of tunnels.

"Secondly, traffic from large numbers of users can easily overwhelm the wireless link. Thirdly, the population of the network is very dynamic. Passengers are getting on and off the vehicle all the time. Caching or hoarding data and providing personalised delivery of relevant information for such dynamic user base is a challenging task.

The project is a focus of an Australian Research Council--funded research collaboration between the computer network and service-oriented computing research groups led by Associate Professor Hassan and Associate Professor Boualem Benatallah." We take an integrated approach," said Associate Professor Hassan. "By integrating techniques from both networking and data management disciplines, we aim to develop powerful solutions and concepts for effective and efficient on-board access to global information sources and services.

''Our ultimate goal is to contribute generic techniques and concepts for effective and efficient on-board access to global information sources and services (e.g., weather information, stock quotes, and infotainment). These concepts and techniques will have wider application scope, such as aeronautical, maritime and terrestrial public transport systems.''

University of New South Wales

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