European Bus Operators Provide Beacon-Guided Rides

Bluetooth beacons from Onyx tells passengers when their bus is arriving, and one operator is also using the technology to alert drivers when a passenger is waiting at a stop, and to provide other information and services.
By Claire Swedberg
Dec 21, 2015

In the Romanian city of Bucharest, a bus company is set to wrap up an eight-month pilot project in which Bluetooth beacons are being used to help visually impaired individuals navigate the bus system. At the same time, thousands of bus passengers in South Tyrol, Italy, are being invited to try a beacon-based service that provides real-time location information regarding buses for all riders, not just those with vision impairments. Both deployments are utilizing Onyx Beacon's Smart Public Transport Solution, which consists of beacon hardware, as well as a cloud-based content-management system (CMS) platform, to communicate with mobile devices via an app that runs on iOS and Android systems.

For the Bucharest Smart Public Transport system, which is being funded by the Vodafone Romania Foundation, Onyx Beacon worked with Tandem Association—a Romanian organization dedicated to furthering the personal autonomy of persons with "mobility disabilities"—and the bus company known as RATB, an acronym that translates in Romanian as Autonomous Administration of Surface Public Transportation.

RATB mounted an Onyx Enterprise beacon on a bus' exterior, above the front passenger door.
The Bucharest pilot launched in May 2015 with 40 of Onyx Beacon's Enterprise beacons mounted on as many buses. Since that time, RATB has installed beacons on a total of 500 of the 900 buses that travel through the city. The beacons are mounted on two-sided heavy-duty tape on the vehicle's exterior, above the front passenger door, though they can also be affixed via four screws when the surface allows.

Visually impaired riders (100 are participating in the pilot) download a Tandem Association app known as the Smart Public Transport RO, developed by Onyx Beacon. The app is available on the iTunes and Google Play websites for use on Android or iOS devices. A user at a bus stop inputs the bus that he or she wishes to board, and the app forwards that data to Onyx Beacon's content-management software, which contains a database consisting of the unique ID number for every vehicle's beacon.

When the requested bus comes within 50 to 60 meters (164 to 197 feet) of the passenger's stop, his or her smartphone receives the unique ID number transmitted by the vehicle's beacon. The app forwards that ID to Onyx Beacon's content-management software, which confirms that the bus is indeed the one requested. The phone then chirps to alert the traveler that his or her bus is arriving at the stop.

Once the vehicle comes within 10 to 20 meters (33 to 66 feet), its beacon emits a beeping or buzzing sound to alert the driver that a person with disabilities is at the stop, awaiting that bus. To prevent confusion by drivers when multiple vehicles are in the area, the device can be configured to make one of 16 different sounds. A driver can easily hear the sound, Onyx Beacon reports, particularly when opening the door. The Enterprise beacons are bi-directional, enabling the app to send commands to a beacon via a phone's Bluetooth radio. When a passenger using the app boards the bus, the app detects that the rider's phone has remained within 15 feet of the beacon for an extended period of time, and forwards that information to the content-management system. The CMS, in turn, instructs the app to transmit a command to the beacon to cease emitting the sound.

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