Our Mission, Governance and Projects

The purpose of this site is simply to make it easier for “transit appliances”, devices that display transit information, to be created and deployed in as many form factors and with as many interfaces as are useful, ranging from “countertop” devices like the Insignia Infocast, to flat-screen TVs, to ??? – the only limit is the imagination. We’re dedicated to making it easier for people to use transit by making it easier to be aware where and when the bus, or train, is going to show up.

Our proposition is that to do this, if as much of the common infrastructure, from configuration to the mechanics of fetching arrival information in a standard way, can be made an easily available as open source, commodity services, then the bulk of the creativity of the developer community can be applied to devices and display interfaces, where it can have the most impact.

So this site exists as a place to coordinate the development of those commodity services, and as a gathering point for the discussion and development of interfaces.

This site exists under the auspices of Portland Transport, an Oregon 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation that is primarily known for publishing a transportation blog. But our non-profit status allows us to accept grants and tax-deductible contributions that may help further the transit appliance mission. Our immediate aspirations are regional, but we intend to allow our work to be useful in other transit districts where ever possible.

Welcome to the party! There are two projects that are definitely on our agenda:

  • A self-service interface for configuring what transit stops and lines show up on a given appliance (development began at the CivicWebs hack-a-thon and is well under way)
  • A standardized javascript object for retrieving arrivals from TriMet, so developers can focus on display, not plumbing. Potentially this will have an architecture to support plugins for other agencies.

Some other possible projects:

  • Tweaks to the Qt web browser for better startup and better use of screen real estate on the Infocast.
  • A “transit appliance” Linux distro that can be deployed on a USB stick to turn Atom or ARM PC’s connected to flat screen monitors or TV’s into out-of-the-box transit appliances.
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Build Your Own Transit Appliance

I’m happy to announce our first software release, USB drive boot configurations for the Insignia Infocast. These are based on the Qt web browser build here.

This release comes in two versions, one with the touch screen driver enabled and one with the mouse driver enabled (you can plug both a USB mouse and a USB keyboard into the Infocast). I have three Infocast units and my experience is that the touchscreen drivers worked on two of them, but the third would only work with the mouse driver (the touchscreen still works with the mouse driver but the calibration is off).

Our version of the boot script also runs a small Perl script that extracts the MAC id of the unit and builds this into a startup HTML file that will load the appliance configuration from our server. At this point, you’ll still need to ask us to build your configuration, but I hope to have the self-service app for this up within a few weeks.

So the process of setting up your Transit Appliance from unboxing would be:

  1. Burn a USB drive (extract the .zip into the top directory of the FAT32-formatted driver) with one of the downloaded packages above (I’d recommend trying the touch version first and only use the mouse version if that doesn’t work).
  2. Apply power to the Infocast without the USB drive inserted.
  3. Follow the normal Infocast startup through screen calibration and WiFi setup (you can continue through the Chumby control panel setup if you like, but you dont’ need to).
  4. Power down the unit and the insert the USB drive.
  5. Power on the unit. You should eventually see a screen that looks like this:
    SDC10779

  6. Touch the screen (you may have to double-tap) and then you should see a screen like this:
    SDC10781

  7. e-mail us (infocast@portlandtransport.com) with your MAC id and the transit stops you’d like in your configuration. We’ll get you set up and then you’ll be off and running!

BTW – If you prefer not to (or can’t) use WiFi, the Infocast will work with the Chumby-tested USB Ethernet Adapters.

Posted in Chumby/Insignia Infocast | 4 Comments

So What’s a Transit Appliance?

I’m defining a “transit appliance” as a category of devices (not any particular device) that meet two conditions:

  1. Display transit information (in the current case under discussion, vehicle arrival estimates – but potentially other information as well).
  2. Are an ‘appliance’ in the sense that they have been configured to perform just this task, i.e., you turn it on and up comes the transit information. A personal computer on which you have to launch a web browser would NOT meet the definition. It needs to “just work”. No mouse, no keyboard. Just a power switch (at least after initial configuration).

I first introduced the idea of a “transit appliance” in this post on Portland Transport.

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