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Students use senior project to track location of buses

By Hallie Jordan     11/12/09 6:00pm

After three years of afternoons waiting idly for the on-campus shuttles, a trio of students has decided that their time will be wasted no more. Three electrical engineering students have taken it upon themselves to create a shuttle-tracking system as their senior design project. Hanszen College senior Katherine Threlkeld and Baker College seniors Bailey Basile and Alysha Jeans are designing a way to track the buses as they travel the Inner Loop and post their locations on a Web site.

Senior electrical engineering students can choose their projects from a list of options. Jeans said she picked the shuttle project because it was challenging and would integrate her studies with improving Rice.

"Although I can't speak for my other group members, I liked this project because it sounded like an interesting and challenging problem that would require some creativity to solve, and it would give something tangible back to the Rice community," Jeans said.

The students will install Radio Frequency Identification readers in various buildings near the inner loop to track all 13 buses, which will be equipped with RFID tags.

The Web site the students hope to create will list the location and time each bus last passed an RFID reader, Jeans said.

"The Web site is the basic thing that needs to get done," she said. "We will have a mobile version that people can access by phone as well. If we have time, we will try to implement another [version] later, such as a texting feature."

The Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen has given the students $2,000 to fund their project. Other projects are supported by outside companies and by funds set aside for senior design projects.

The readers are projected to cost about $525 each, and the tags will be $20 each. Full implementation of the system would cost around $25,000, Jeans said. Since the group does not have the funds to install their project, they will propose their plan to Rice at the end of the year, she said.

The group is using the RFID systems instead of Global Positioning Satellites, since RFID tags are unaffected by weather and are much cheaper.

The team hopes the tracking system will benefit the Transportation Office as well.

"We are hoping to be able to report statistical data to the Transportation Office to say when the buses are close together," Jeans said. "We primarily want to get the system working for students and then, secondarily, we want to be able to send useful data back."

A tracking system would be efficient as a time-saver for bus riders, Baker College senior Felona Gunawan said.

"Before I even read the e-mail with the survey [about a potential bus tracker], I thought it would be nice to know when the bus is coming instead of standing for a long time," Gunawan said. "Sometimes I can't decide if it's faster to walk, especially if it is the bus going to the Medical Center.

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