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TranspoTower: An Interactive Touch-Board that Conveys Transportation Information while Accommodating for Accessibility Challenges

Writer, Public Health Consultant, Software Design Assistant

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The city of Detroit has a transportation system with the potential to truly mobilize Detroit. DDOT and SMART bus systems, in addition to last-mile mobility options, have the capability of providing Detroit citizens access to the entirety of their city. However, funding these transportation systems would be useless if the public is only partially aware of all the resources available to them. Our team has developed an idea to bridge the informational gap that separates the Detroit community from these attainable resources.

Our solution idea not only addresses the need for improved transportation-informational systems, but it also accounts for accessibility challenges in its design. The Impact Area is home to an extremely diversified  community that demands a customized informational tool to accommodate for their needs. 

There are many factors that influence user engagement in public programs. One such factor is explained in the "Customer Relationship Management in Public Transportation" study, performed by Mikhaylov. It addressed how important the consideration of language barriers is to the creation of transportation systems. The study determined that limited language options impacts the user-friendliness of transportation systems, thereby negatively impacting accessibility. 

This principle was considered during the generation of our informational design idea, since the Impact Area community has members whose first languages are not English. Translations of the TranspoTower's messages are available in 126 different languages. Additionally, to accommodate for the needs of those who experience difficulties while reading, the TranspoTower also accompanies the translations with an automated dictation.

Our idea also considers the needs of the handicapped when accessing transportational information. According to "A review of user-interface design guidelines for public information kiosk systems," by Maguire, information systems tend to exclude wheelchair populations because standard heights don't make access convenient for them.  Therefore, tower has a screen that is larger and accessible at a lower height for the benefit of wheelchair-users.

The city of Detroit is continuously expanding and developing. The residents of the Impact Area should not be exempted from these opportunities for the reason of transportation. These residents deserve the knowledge to harness the benefits of existing transportation systems. TranspoTowers are capable of providing this information through a medium that accommodates for their needs.

How will your solution benefit residents, workers, or visitors in the Michigan Central Station impact area? (1,000 characters)

Our team is generating an interactive touchboard design that will be located at every DDOT bus stop to improve access to mobility information. The board will provide DDOT informational needs to the disabled, residents, workers, and tourists in the Impact Area. The board will be programmed to allow the user to select their destination, then provide the necessary connecting bus information to bring the user to a place in close proximity of the destination. The route of travel will be visually displayed with different connecting bus routes denoted by different colors, along with departure and arrival times estimated with GPS trackers on DDOT buses. The board will accommodate for multilingual users by providing 126 language options for text, accompanied by a voice that vocalizes the data for users that experience difficulty while reading. The screen will start 3 feet above the ground, extending to 6 feet high to accommodate for the needs of wheelchair users and able-bodied people alike.

Describe your solution's stage of development

  • Initial Design - you are still exploring the idea and have not tested it with users

Insights from previous testing (500 characters)

The idea has not yet been user-tested, but it is being extensively explored. An idea to make the structures less community-intrusive is a competition for artists in the area to be featured on the touchboards. A potential development could be team collaborations. The free-standing kiosk structure could serve as a component for a “Build an Inviting Environment” challenge design. It can also provide last-mile mobility options from the “Connect People, Places, and Opportunities” challenge teams.

Tell us about your team or organization (500 characters)

Our team is comprised of 5 Wayne State University students with majors in Computer Science and/or Public Health, 1 student from Troy High, and faculty adviser, Professor Weisong Shi. We aim to mobilize the people of Detroit. We are tackling the issue of transportation since resources can’t be fueled into systems that the public is only partially informed about. As a majority of the team is under the age of 22, we are eager to make improvements that will positively impact the future of our city.

Size of your team or organization

  • 2-10

Are you submitting as a student team?

  • Yes

Are you submitting as a team from the Impact Area?

  • Yes

Funding Request

  • $100,000

Rough Budget (500 characters)

The total budget we requested is $150K, including $50K for the units, a 26% of overhead charged by Wayne State University, and supplemental costs. We requested to build five touchboards, each of which cost $10K. $30K is requested to support the software and hardware design and implementation. Other funded elements include the cost of community engagement, software design, overhead fees, testing, potential prototyping setbacks, permits, installation fees, feedback collection, and maintenance.

Describe how you would pilot your idea (1000 characters)

Our pilot program will consist of community engagement sessions and the installation of 5 touchboards. We are planning to form a mutual relationship with the Impact Area community in order to incorporate them into the project implementation. The plan is to divide the impact area into 5 sectors. Then, we will determine the stop in each sector where there is maximized access to other transportation forms. The community can help us determine what the crucial stops are so that we can accommodate for their transportational needs. The interactive touchboards will be placed at these stops with installed programs that measure user interaction. The prototyping and touchboard generation is estimated to require the most financial resources (about 120K) for overhead fees, prototyping setbacks, software development, and hardware construction. The remaining amount of funding will be allocated to community engagement, permits, installation fees, and feedback collection.

Describe how you would measure the success of your pilot (1000 characters)

Success would be measured by a usage rates comparisons before and after the intervention, rates of touchboard interaction, and satisfaction rates of users and Impact Area residents. A partnership with DDOT will be need to be formed in order to obtain the data necessary to compare rider rates before and after touchboard implementation. To monitor touchboard interaction, a program will be installed into the touchboard that tracks user numbers and the amount of time they spend during interaction. This allows us to record rates of usage and determine where to improve user-friendliness. In order to scope user satisfaction, a survey can be administered through the touchpads as a closing statement for every interaction. These surveys will also be distributed in community engagement meetings before, during, and after implementation.

Sustainability Plan (500 characters)

While we plan to maximize touchboard longevity with materials that regulate the system’s internal conditions, we are anticipating hardware replacements and adjustments in response to user feedback. We plan to consistently monitor ease of user accessibility, through usage monitoring, to prompt necessary changes. In order to financially sustain the hardware and system improvements, we plan to form partnerships with the DDOT and other businesses directly affected by these routes of transportation.

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