Alex Bell, a native New Yorker and electrical engineering student at Columbia, was tired of waiting for the subway.
So he invented Subway Arrival, an iPhone app that tracks users as they enter and exit the underground. It notices when they lose signal, then reappear somewhere far away. By matching cell phone base stations to subway stations, the app can figure out who is using what train.
If enough people start using the app, 10,000 in Bell’s estimation, a fairly accurate portrait emerges of where different trains are in the system.
“It’s inspiring stuff,” says Lenny Pruss, an analyst at RRE Ventures who saw Bell present his app at a recent demo day. “He’s using the technology that’s already in place, cell towers and phone ids, and putting them to work in a new way.”
Pruss helped to connect Bell with the City’s BigApps competition, which may help it get the visibility it needs to reach a critical mass of users.
“Instead of building a complicated GPS system into all our subways, we can rely on the riders to monitor where trains are,” says Bell. “That could save the city millions.”
For the good of the city, and in the interest of avoiding another ridiculous fare hike, all iPhone users should go out and download this app immediately.
bpopper at observer dot com – @benpopper