Stephen Cushen

May 21, 2016 News

It is with absolute delight that we congratulate third year student Stephen Cushen for winning first place in the Intermediate Technology section at the 2016 BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition. Stephen mentored by science teacher Yvonne Nolan was rewarded for his years’ work on his project TimeForTown. Stephen was judged by Leonard Hobbs, Director of Global Public Affairs with Intel Ireland, by Dr. Linda Doyle, Director of CONNECT/CTVR and Professor of Engineering and The Arts in Trinity College and by John Dunnion, Senior Lecturer in the UCD School of Computer Science. Stephen’s project was one of 559 qualified projects from 2048 entries, representing 396 schools.

To add to Stephen’s celebrations, he was further rewarded by winning a Special Award, the EMC2 prize, awarded to the project that demonstrated excellence in the clever use of data within a project, illustrating a novel or innovative approach to the collection, analysis and use of data.

Stephen was in attendance at the RDS from Wednesday 6th until Saturday 9th January. There, he was visited by a number of VIPs to the exhibition including Táiniste Joan Burton, Minister for Health Leo Varadkar, CEO of BT Ireland, Colm O’ Neill and a number of the imminent exhibition judges.

Follows is Stephen’s project Summary;

Expanding the boundaries of social media to provide a simple way of accessing public transport real time worldwide.

My Project TimeForTown is an international twitter platform developed in the Python Programming language (version 2.7) that provides real time information on public transport schedules for people around the world.

Although all major transport systems already have their own real time apps, they are all different, come sometimes in languages that you are not familiar with and can be cumbersome to use. So I came up with the idea of a single platform that would be able to access the data from a whole variety of different transport systems worldwide. I decided to use Twitter as the controlling platform as it is simple and easy to use and people are already familiar with it. It also has a suite of APIs that enable it communicate with other systems.

I developed it originally with tourists in mind. I wanted to provide something different, so I came up with the idea of Hotels or Places of interest registering to be involved. They are allocated a Hotel Code and this is associated with the nearest bus or train stop to town, as tourists would mainly want to get into the centre of town. So that’s where the name came from – TimeFortown. The hotel code is then displayed in the lobby or other place that gets the most traffic where people will see it and guests can then get the time of the next bus or train by tweeting away. If the user wants a reminder they just add #remind me to their tweet and they will get a reminder tweet 5 minutes before their bus, train or tube is due. They will also get the information relayed back to them in their own language. These are features that are unique to this system.

TimeForTown can be used in either of 2 ways on Twitter. You can tweet the # and the hotel code or send a direct message through twitter to the user @timefortown. Since I originally developed the system, I have been constantly adding new features. The system can now be used without Hotel Codes by tweeting the Bus Stop Number to get the time and details of the next available bus at that stop – very handy, if you want to get back to your hotel. I have recently introduced a GPS feature that associates the customer’s current location with the nearest hotel and therefore provides the customer with the time of the next train/bus/tube without the need to specify a Hotel Code. I did this by using the Haversine formula which calculates distances between GPS coordinates.

With the availability of Open Data and APIs, I have managed to access real time information on many of the world’s most popular transport systems such as Dublin Bus, Irish Rail, the London Underground, the New York City Bus Network, the Netherlands NS Rail System and Deutsche Bahn Rail system. Where API’s are not available, such as with Dublin Bus and Deutsche Bahn in Germany, I screen scrape their web sites to access the data to provide the information. The python programs that control the interaction between the customer and the transport databases run on a Flask server at my home. When the system expands, I will use a more resilient site to host the application.

With Twitter, the customer will be using a standard and simple interface that will of course be free and it will be possible to determine their nationality from their user profile and therefore provide the information in their native language by using a Python language conversion API. Most hotel lobbies provide free WIFI, so there won’t even be any data charges in most cases. I have also developed a complete administrative system with reports to monitor customer usage in order to promote the use of the platform.

Anyone who has a twitter account can use it. I am really excited about the system, because of its international dimension and as more and more Transport systems and features are added it will expand the use of social networking to real life every day use.