A team of two computer science students from the University of Jordan has developed “Bus Bot”, a conversation robot that public transportation users can add on messenger applications such as Facebook to get real time information about bus stop locations and routes after messaging where they want to go.
The team, consisting of 21-year-old Yanal Tsai and 20-year-old Yousef Arabiat, was awarded the first prize at the Public Transportation Hackathon that took place in Amman last weekend, where over 50 developers gathered to build digital solutions for the public transportation sector.
The students built on the public transportation advocacy group Maan Nasel’s previous efforts to create the database for the Khutoutna app, known as the first public transit trip-planning app in Amman.
Hazem Zureiqat, co-organiser of the Hakathon and founding member of Maan Nasel, expressed that “given that this was the first event of its kind in Jordan, I think we were successful in getting young developers to start thinking about public transportation in Jordan and how they can contribute in providing technology-based solutions to problems that people face moving around”, noting that “we even had two groups of school students participate in the Hackathon and provide their own thoughts and ideas.”
In a recent interview with The Jordan Times, Arabiat explained that the team used natural language processing technology to make sense of the user’s request and collect the data from the Khutoutna app, to later deliver the information back to the user in a text.
“Our aim was to create an easy solution for people to use public transportation,” said Arabiat, explaining that “this way, the user simply has to access his or her typical messenger application and to send a text and receive the routes and the bus stop location — not even having to open the app”.
Furthermore, Tsai added that the technology also includes an app that bus drivers can use to automatically provide information about the route, letting the users know that the bus is on the way.
“To motivate bus drivers and commuters to use the app, we have developed a system where both of them get rewards to use at businesses in the area,” he continued, adding that the team was “trying to run a sustainable business through private partnerships”.
“We attended the Hackathon with the idea that technology is there to serve and motivate people, and, to achieve this purpose, we had to come up with this idea,” he added.
When asked about the implementation of the “Bus Bot”, Arabiat said that the technology was “real and ready to be applied”, noting that the team will soon start discussing partnerships with private companies to help with the implementation.
However, the team is aiming to go further. “Maan Nasel provided the infrastructure to build the app for Amman, but we are hoping to develop a solution capable of working in any city,” Tsai said.
Ali Attari, co-organiser of the Public Transportation Hackathon and coordination and research manager at the Centre for the Study of the Built Environment, told The Jordan Times that the organisation “hopes to collaborate and continue developing” with the team.
Furthermore, Attari noted that the organisation is planning to analyse the 17 projects that were presented, regardless of whether they won or not, to later narrow the selection to a few choices and study their implementation in the next version of the Khutoutna app.
In this regard, Zureiqat pointed out that “another project gave riders an incentive to provide more data to Maan Nasel’s database, providing them with ‘bus coins’ — virtual or potentially real money — in exchange for tracking their rides using their smartphones”, while other projects “improved on Maan Nasel’s app by adding a comparison feature, allowing commuters to compare the cost of a trip on various modes such as public transport, taxi, or ride-hailing services”.
Jordan Times: Sep 18, 2017.