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You Don't Have To Wait For That Bus (At Least Not In The Rain!)
by Mark Sedenquist

This is supposed to be the week where I draw the line in the sand with regard to the wireless satellite offerings-- but my jury (of one Road Wirer) is still working on the issue. In the meantime, I learned about some innovative uses of GPS technology this week. Have you ever ridden the city bus in your community and had to endure worrying about making your next connection because your bus was late? Have you sent a child into a gathering storm to wait for the morning school bus? Maybe you've nearly had a stroke because the taxi, upon which you are depending to get you to the airport, has failed to show on time. Or perhaps, as has happened to us on-the-road a few times, you've been stuck in a broken-down vehicle in the middle of rush hour wondering what was keeping the tow truck. Even if your biggest challenge was a hankering for ice cream from a Good Humor truck, your worries may soon become a thing of the past.

Over the last few years in cities large and small, I have probably spent in excess of 200 hours fuming and wondering where "the confounded bus" was. Imagine being able to glance at a wrist watch display or a PDA and being able to view "real-time" and accurate information about when your bus, taxi, tow truck or ice cream vendor will arrive a specific location. There are two enterprises working on supplying this type of information to consumers. The first company, NotiCom is based in Destin, Florida and they are marketing a service called "Bus Call." Under this service, GPS transceivers are used to track specific buses as they make their routes. When the school bus is within five to fifteen minutes of the intended bus stop, a telephone call is placed to the subscriber's home giving them sufficient time to send the children out to meet the bus. (**Update 12/02: Despite great promise and fanfare, this companies offerings did not survive."

Another service is currently undergoing trials in the San Francisco Bay area. It is called the "NextBus," and it's available on two buses on a key route of the San Francisco Muni. Under this program the transit system's computers update the location of the buses every two minutes and can push this information to a user's computer for specific stops. In the near-future, similar types of information will be available wirelessly devices of our own choosing to mere mortals like us.

I heard from a fellow Dashboarder this week who is undertaking the creation and implementation of a unique GPS-related application. Alan from Minnesota characterizes himself as "a hard-core Mac user" who is attempting to use the same model of GPS receiver we have in the Phoenix One, a Magellan 5000DX, in combination with a couple of old Mac 280C Powerbooks as a real-time navigation system for his sailboat and car in and around Lake Superior. He plans to use one on the boat to store and manipulate the nautical maps of Lake Superior, and the one in his vehicle will have a street atlas on its hard drive. He plans to transfer the GPS back and forth as needed. Most of the real-time moving map systems that I am familiar with are based upon a PC platform, and I am eager to learn of Alan's experiences. If you have any ideas that may assist Alan in his endeavors, please send him an e-mail: al@parplus.com.

I am posting this from someplace in the Mojave Desert as I continue to test the capabilities of the GlobalStar satellite phone system. Looking forward to hearing from you this week!

Mark Sedenquist
Mojave Desert, California
June 12, 2000

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