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A Hacked WiFi Router, an API, and a Toy Bus: It's the Ambient Bus Arrival Monito

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the don't-want-to-be-outdoors-any-longer-than-necessary dept.

Hardware Hacking 53

JohnGrahamCumming writes "In this simple project, a hacked Linksys WRT54GL talks to a public API to get real-time bus information, and displays the times of the next buses on a model bus. Never miss the bus again! 'It's possible to reflash the Linksys with a custom Linux installation that lets me control the box completely (and still use it as a wireless router). There are various project, but I used OpenWRT. With OpenWRT it's possible to SSH into the box and treat it as any Linux server (albeit a rather slow one). But there's plenty of power to grab bus times and update an LED display connected to the WRT54GL's serial port. "

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Over engineered (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39419677)

As is the preference of most FOSS-tards.

Re:Over engineered (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39419843)

Geeky-fun shat on by malcontents.

Re:Over engineered (1, Interesting)

History's Coming To (1059484) | about 2 years ago | (#39420245)

It's so over-engineered it's easily adaptable and extendable to a commercial product. The buses in Edinburgh use much the same system, with a display at the bus stops telling you how far away the next bus is, usually to within a minute. Yeah, useless idea with no commercial applications whatsoever. *rollseyes*

Hmm... (4, Funny)

girlintraining (1395911) | about 2 years ago | (#39419751)

You can only unlock the Achievement "I Put My Toaster On the Internet!" if it's using Arduino. Sorry man.

Re:Hmm... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39419879)

I did put my toaster on the internet - but now some guy in Finland keeps on burning my toast :(

Re:Hmm... (0)

Eponymous Hero (2090636) | about 2 years ago | (#39419929)

=/ it's how some folks make their bread and butter. speaking of which, how is this guy so smart and talented but doesn't have a job that pays well enough to afford a car?

Re:Hmm... (1)

Eponymous Hero (2090636) | about 2 years ago | (#39419941)

those are invisible facetious tags around my last statement

Re:Hmm... (4, Insightful)

snookums (48954) | about 2 years ago | (#39420049)

I know you're joking, but in a lot of large cities a car is unnecessary, and commuting by car is a very expensive option even if you have one (due to high fuel price, $20+/day parking, opportunity cost of driving yourself when you could be reading Slashdot on the bus, etc.) My wife and I earn enough to keep a nice car, but choose not to own one. We both have bicycles for commuting, and sublet our appartment's car spaces which more than covers membership in a car share program and rental cars when we go on holiday.

Re:Hmm... (2)

Eponymous Hero (2090636) | about 2 years ago | (#39420719)

yeah i know. when i lived downtown in san diego i deliberately patterned my life so as to not need a car. it was great for lots of reasons. it sucked for lots of reasons. people often forget that time is a currency that you are constantly spending. you give up high fuel prices, insurance, repairs, registration, parking -- and then you live a lifestyle where you don't go very far because it takes too long, you decide not to go places because relying on public/friends' transportation is inconvenient, and your travel time is restricted to when the buses run... so forget driving yourself to the emergency room, the immediate emergency is finding that ride or calling a cab (for the scenic route to the ER).

i never realized how much i missed hiking and camping until i spent a few years not being able to fit them into my schedule without a car. all these little things are alleviated somewhat by rental cars, but owning a car is much like investing in your time. you spend the money on fuel, insurance, repairs, registration, parking, etc. so you don't have to spend more time going through the motions of working out transportation issues each time you need to venture father than your bus route. i also felt bad constantly asking for rides from friends and acquaintances just to carry stuff home that i couldn't fit on the bus or bike (or in my case, skateboard). for those who commute longer than half an hour by car, imagine how long it would take if you had to catch 2 to 3 buses or ride a bicycle the same distance and subtract that extra time from your daily schedule.

despite that is my opinion, i was still being facetious about the guy's car. i know first hand why it's desirable to not have one.

Re:Hmm... (1)

xaxa (988988) | more than 2 years ago | (#39424617)

That depends completely on the city.

I just cycled for about 20 minutes to get to work, mostly on a cycle path past a line of stopped cars on a primary route in London. The time to drive is about 30 minutes during the day (cars have a slightly less direct route and more traffic lights), the time for cars at night is about 15 minutes, the time for cars at rush hour is probably more like 45, but I've never tried.

It's a little annoying if it's raining (so I bought waterproofs), and more annoying if it's very windy, but not as annoying as it is for drivers who see the electronic signs saying something like "accident on M40, expect delays" and completely stopped traffic. Those used to be the days when some of my colleagues would show up an hour late, but I don't think any of them drive any more.

If I liked hiking I probably would get a car, and then I could use it for the few cases which alone don't justify one. But I still wouldn't commute with it.

Re:Hmm... (1)

Rasperin (1034758) | more than 2 years ago | (#39421193)

I wanted to rate this up but what people in cities like that tend to forget is those not in cities like that. I live in the Kansas City metro and the way things are laid out there is absolutely no way a real bus system would work. Ontop of that there's 1/10th the people but 50x the square mileage. I really wish a real bus system would work though :( I miss living in Boston.

Re:Hmm... (1)

parens (632808) | more than 2 years ago | (#39428291)

Buses, definitely not. I'm not sure why the politicians can't figure out that no one rides the bus because it takes way too long to get anywhere - it isn't a question of letting them drive on the shoulder of I-35 or not. Light rail, on the other hand .... that's public transit that can work in KC.

Re:Hmm... (1)

Eponymous Hero (2090636) | more than 2 years ago | (#39435561)

in response to you, and parens below, san diego also has a light rail system. a bus was the most convenient for my particular situation, but when i lived in south county, i took a combination of buses and trolleys to get to my job at the beach - 2 hours each way total. i have lived in many different cities, and have taken public transportation in more cities than i've lived. if you think public transpo is bad in kansas city, try santa fe, new mexico. in another response in this thread i freely admitted i understand why people can't live without a car. i own a car today. i didn't forget you, kansas city. i was just being very specific about my experience in a specific city, san diego. and i would love to spend a couple years in boston, maybe i'll get around to it someday.

Re:Hmm... (1)

hairyfeet (841228) | more than 2 years ago | (#39422585)

I have a question: How do you keep the scummy people from ruining it? Because the few times I've ridden on public transport in the USA its been like riding on a prison bus only worse because the prison bus at least has armed guards. We are talking junkies, nuts, filthy hobos, real scum of the fucking earth on those things, yet I hear in the EU your buses are clean and actually pleasant to ride on, so how do you do it?

Re:Hmm... (2)

snookums (48954) | more than 2 years ago | (#39423161)

how do you do it?

Honestly, I'm not sure. I think it depends a lot on what part of the city you live in, and what other options there are. If the bus is a horribly inefficient but cheap way to get around, then only desperate people will use it. If you have bus-only lanes, pre-paid ticketing and other things to make the bus as fast or faster than a private car, the demographics change. In places like Sydney or London, most of the city's white-collar workforce come in to the city by bus or train/metro.

Re:Hmm... (1)

xaxa (988988) | more than 2 years ago | (#39424669)

1) Slightly to a lot (depending on the country) better social systems, so there are less junkies, nuts, filthy hobos etc.
2) More expensive private transport, including the cost of vehicle, fuel, insurance, and parking (which is often limited)
3) More frequent service (worse than every 20 minutes puts a lot of people off)

(2) and (3) together make the bus/train a better (or at least less-bad) option.

Buses aren't always pleasant to ride on. At 3:30 in the morning on Sunday in London they can be rammed full with tired and/or drunk people, which isn't fun if you're on your way to work. However, that does reflect the average person who's around at that time of night.

Re:Hmm... (1)

quacking duck (607555) | more than 2 years ago | (#39426985)

Much as I love to hate taking our city's (Ottawa, Canada) bus transit system, it is supposedly one of the best in North America. I think the keys are sufficient funding, public willingness, and sense of environmental responsibility.

Ottawa is actually badly laid out for a transit system once you get out of the core, I won't bore you with why, but public transit is the single largest "service" charge in my municipal tax bill, more than police and fire combined IIRC. We have decent dedicated high-speed bus-only lanes and corridors, so if you're coming in from major hubs 20km out, it takes only 30-40 minutes to get downtown. It would take at least that long to drive in and park during rush hour. There's also a dedicated transit security force that can respond quickly to incidents in most of the city, so despite a few cases of robbery at or near transit stations after-hours it's regarded as safe. Most buses run a decent schedule during the day.

I've read that in the US there's the perception that public buses are for the underclass. Add in the car as a status symbol and it's no wonder anyone who can afford to, avoids transit. Here, doctors and businessmen in fancy suits can be seen sitting or standing next to kids with punk haircuts. Environmentalism, despite our current Conservative federal government's best efforts, is still a big deal in Canada, so many try and do their part.

Re:Hmm... (1)

b0bby (201198) | more than 2 years ago | (#39427543)

In my experience, the key is that lots of people take the bus in places like the UK; gas is expensive, the cities are old & streets are narrow, and parking can be a real pain. They don't have the spread out suburbs of the US. So the buses have more of a representative sample of society. I know lots of car owners in the UK who take the bus regularly. In the US, most places, the bus is the last resort; I know I haven't been on one in the US for years, and neither have most of my friends, even though I live in a pretty transportation-friendly urban area. People I know will take the Metro (DC subway), but rarely the bus.

Re:Hmm... (1)

xaxa (988988) | more than 2 years ago | (#39438655)

It probably helps that in many place in Europe (as far as I know) "school buses" don't exist -- students who need to use a bus to get to school use a normal bus.

That means many parents have an interest in keeping the system safe and convenient, even if they hardly ever use it themselves.

Re:Hmm... (1, Funny)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 2 years ago | (#39423095)

I know you're joking, but in a lot of large cities a car is unnecessary, and

That whooshing noise was the joke sailing above your head. This wasn't about cars, this was about some Forever Alone dude hacking a wifi router into some whack LCD display. Who cares what it displays? Ordinary people just go out and buy an LCD display and a dev board (like Arduino) for this kind of thing. They don't consult the Necronomicon and then call forth Digitus, The Terrible One (and his lesser known counterpart, The Terrible Zero), and ask him to use his dark powers to transmorgify a f***ing wifi router into an LCD display. This is a classic example of why engineers, like children, should never be left unattended for long periods of time: They're inevitably do something completely nuts that'll leave the responsible adult left with a broken brain, babbling in the corner asking Whhhyyyyyyyy? This is just such a project.

$20 a day expensive? (1)

dutchwhizzman (817898) | more than 2 years ago | (#39423735)

You should visit Amsterdam. $10 an hour is "normal" there for government owned parking spaces which are, incidentally, 97% or so of the available parking spaces. Never underestimate the power of free market once the government gets into it. They get to decide who gets to build parking spaces in their buildings and there are never enough allowed if you want the building permit to be given.

Re:$20 a day expensive? (1)

snookums (48954) | more than 2 years ago | (#39434545)

In Sydney $20/day is the "early bird" rate for people who arrive before 9:30 and want to park all day. Casual hourly parking in the city during the day is much more expensive - anything from $10-20 per hour for a private car park, and $7/hr for government-metered street parking. In any case, parking your car costs more than any return bus or train ticket, before you even count the cost of fuel.

Re:Hmm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39425041)

He lives in London. A car is probably the slowest [] , most annoying [] , and most expensive [] means of transport in this city. Even the car-loving Top Gear [] guys had to admit it.

Re:Hmm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39419887)

I think we should give him credit for not using a commercial rip-off like DD-WRT and going directly with OpenWRT instead.

Re:Hmm... (1)

FatdogHaiku (978357) | about 2 years ago | (#39420147)

You can only unlock the Achievement "I Put My Toaster On the Internet!" if it's using Arduino. Sorry man.

My toaster works fine and it's running Win 95 on a 486sx.
Say, does this sourdough taste exploited to you?

Hang on a minuite (1, Funny)

wjh31 (1372867) | about 2 years ago | (#39419937)

You mean it can run linux?

Transit providers should sell these (4, Interesting)

hawguy (1600213) | about 2 years ago | (#39419969)

The San Francisco Muni already has NextBus [] powered LED displays at bus stops that show arrival time of the next few buses - they should package them up like this and sell them to transit riders as a quick and easy way to see the arrival time of the next bus at their stop. Much more convenient to look at the bus-shaped sign by the door to see that I have 2 minutes 'till the next bus than to pull out my phone, unlock it, and load up the app.

Re:Transit providers should sell these (3, Funny)

Eponymous Hero (2090636) | about 2 years ago | (#39420239)

filing a patent that puts this guy's tech into a standard wall clock. happy now?

that'll be $49.95 plus shipping.

$59.95 for the harder-to-read binary version.

$79.95 for the version that automatically shares on facebook the time you left your house for which bus number, along with stated destination and links to the profiles of facially-recognized facebook members seen leaving the house with you. add an additional $19.95 for the clock to automatically post pictures of you looking at said clock before you leave.

$149.95 for the version that integrates a kinect and guesses your weight, health problems, objects in pockets, and amount of money in wallet or purse -- and posts all to facebook. will not tell your fortune, because we respect your privacy.

FYI (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39419995)

In the 80s the Toronto bus system had a phone number on every stop. You dialed that, and got a quick automated voice telling you the next three bus's times of arrival. ETA was based on pickups across the city, so was very accurate.

So yeah, pick up the phone and hit speedial every morning and I knew exactly if I wanted a brisk or slow walk out the door. Absolutely great system.

Re:FYI (5, Funny)

Beardo the Bearded (321478) | about 2 years ago | (#39420593)

The Victoria bus system is based on a "fuck you, we show up when we want... and fuck you" system.

Re:FYI (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39420713)

Two fucks for the price of one ticket? Sign me up!

Re:FYI (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39421441)

Edinburgh in Scotland does the samnote. Never used that service because it was never accurate. It only really told you the theoretical arrival time and not the actual delay time
They did install LCD panels on 2.5 high meter posts. They were impossible to read at night, very often would not be working and were not accurate to tell you the most important thing - you had missed the last bus on your route and therefore you should choose another service.

Re:FYI (1)

quacking duck (607555) | more than 2 years ago | (#39427093)

Ottawa and I know Vancouver now track buses via GPS. Ottawa's uses a text-message system with estimated times, while Vancouver actually updates locations on a map every 2 minutes. I prefer the Vancouver option--knowing how far away my bus is, I can much better guess when I've passed the point of no return and take my time getting to the stop for the next bus. The text option though is more accessible, i.e. better for people without smartphones.

Damn you! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39420003)

I drive a car you insensitive clod!

Must be an American (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39420169)

Countries with a real investment in public transport have these at most bus stops.

Re:Must be an American (3, Informative)

xaxa (988988) | about 2 years ago | (#39420375)

Countries with a real investment in public transport have these at most bus stops.

You exaggerate with "most", but they do exist at many stops in London. 2,500 according to the TfL website, out of 19,500 bus stops (!) used by 700 routes.

The interesting bit here is
1) The information is also on the web.
2) There's an API so people can access the data and use it themselves
3) He put it in a model bus

Re:Must be an American (1)

KingJ (992358) | more than 2 years ago | (#39428949)

Electronic screens are at most major bus stops, however the data is available for any bus stop via the web. The mobile interface even has a nice little geolocation feature. It works pretty well.

Re:Must be an American (1)

damn_registrars (1103043) | more than 2 years ago | (#39422095)

Indeed, in the US anyone who wants to invest in public transit is run out of town as a communist.

Re:Must be an American (1)

joaommp (685612) | more than 2 years ago | (#39422241)

In Portugal you can just text a specific number and you know how long it will take the few next buses to arrive.

Nothing to do with a Wifi router (1)

Gothmolly (148874) | about 2 years ago | (#39420231)

Any tiny Linux box would work - here he's just using the 54G for the OS.

Re:Nothing to do with a Wifi router (1)

queBurro (1499731) | about 2 years ago | (#39420687)

it's got wifi, serial, the OS and it was probably lying around his house somewhere going spare so it was free. you can get that router off of ebay for less than an ethernet shield for your arduino, and the router's got wifi too!

Re:Nothing to do with a Wifi router (1)

LanMan04 (790429) | more than 2 years ago | (#39428025)

here he's just using the 54G for the OS.

And the built-in wifi, and the serial port, and the fact that the hardware costs $15 on craigslist. :)

PopFile on the back burner? (1)

macraig (621737) | about 2 years ago | (#39420273)

I hope PopFile isn't suffering from this diversionary hack!

I like the comment on that page (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39420387)

"Great! The model bus adds a nice touch. I've been contemplating doing something similar using the Helsinki transport system, but the electronics component is what scares me off."

This is like saying, "I've been contemplating racing cars, but driving scares me off".

What a waste (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39420767)

So you're a skilled engineer with too much time and too little ambition or business acumen to translate said skill(s) into more remuneration.

Clap clap.

Well done.

My wifi router predicts buses, too. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39421055)

I run a website called TransSee [] that uses the NextBus API to generate bus (and streetcar) predictions.

The web (and mysql) server runs on my Asus WL-500g Premium wifi router connected to a harddrive via USB (which is why it maybe Slashdotted by the time you read this.)

I also have a Wordpress blog and MediaWiki hosted there.

The server is slower then I like. I was thinking of replacing it with the Palm Pre I'm using to make this post.

Reminds of my LIRC+schedule scraper+festival (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39421161)

As a grad student almost a decade ago, I built something with the similar purpose. I was just learning about the wonders of remote controls, and the LIRC project. I built a serial port homebrew receiver/transmitter using RadioShack parts. I programmed a button on my TV remote to launch a perl script. The perl script would query into a database populated nightly by a schedule scraper for the Pittsburgh bus system. Then look up the time for the next couple of buses, and use festival speech synth. to speak out the duration to the next bus, and the time for the bus after that, and if I just missed a bus. Another button was programmed to speak fortune cookies. It was a lot of fun to spring it upon unsuspecting guests.

animated bus map (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39421401)

I guess this is as good a time to mention my project. It's not quite as cool as this hardware but maybe I'll get around to my bus sensor hack too ;)

I wasn't quite ready but here goes:

Re:animated bus map (1)

xaxa (988988) | more than 2 years ago | (#39451229)

You might be interested in this: []

(I think that's the same thing you're going to do, but for trains in the UK.)

My router does this too. (-1)

doconnor (134648) | more than 2 years ago | (#39421409)

I run a website called TransSee [] that uses the NextBus API to generate bus (and streetcar) predictions. It supports LA, San Fransisco, Boston and Toronto and a bunch of other places.

The web (and mysql) server runs on my Asus WL-500g Premium wifi router connected to a harddrive via USB (which is why it maybe Slashdotted by the time you read this.) It uses DD-WRT

I also have a Wordpress blog and MediaWiki hosted there.

The server is slower then I like. I was thinking of replacing it with the Palm Pre I'm using to make this post.

Been there, done that, got the bus transfer. (2)

I_am_Jack (1116205) | more than 2 years ago | (#39422597)

Seattle/King County Metro has their ride information available so an app was written with multiple interfaces that allows riders to see real-time arrival and departure information. I love it and use it all the time when I ride. []

bus time (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39425875)

I dont have time to do this, I need to get to work. I have a job so I can buy and car and not care about a bus schedule.

Montréal's ok (1)

Vaixe (1004308) | more than 2 years ago | (#39428871)

We have a toll free line, and every stop has a "Stop number". You punch that in and get the next three stops. But the best tool IMO is the STM (Société de Transport de Montréal) site, which, although doing what Google also does, does it with more precision. [] Pretty cool to factor in holidays
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