SmartMMI’s SmartWindow – the Railway Window of the Future

A glance at the train window and the passenger is already informed about passing sights and their connections. What sounds a bit like science fiction is currently being researched in the research project “Model and context-based mobility information on Smart Public Displays and mobile devices in public transport”, or SmartMMI for short. Passengers in public transport want to be well informed in every situation. The project therefore focuses on improving the information supply of passengers along their mobility chain. Depending on the situation, and also on the passenger, the need for information changes – whether in the event of a fault, when plans are changed, to tourist destinations or to services available along the route, SmartMMI is investigating how passengers can be informed as appropriate to the situation as possible.

As part of the project, funded by the mFand research initiative of the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure, five project partners from industry and research are developing new technologies ranging from data acquisition and integration to data visualization. 

Mobility data should be made available in a context-sensitive manner, i.e. adapted to the situation and passenger. The project focuses on the research and testing of context-sensitive data provision on specially developed intelligent semi-transparent display panes that can be installed in public transport vehicles and at bus stops, in conjunction with applications on passengers’ mobile terminals. Through the combination of transparent display and innovative mobile technologies, the highly relevant mobility information finds its way directly to the user – in order to make public transport more attractive.

The project will develop technologies for the collection and integration of data from different data sources. The consortium will use Big Data and Smart Data technologies and integrate specific public transport data based on the latest standards with Open Data and third-party data. The data will be semantically enhanced in order to enable intelligent integration and especially selection of the relevant data – i.e. “understanding” through systems. 

Context information describes the current situation of passengers and public transport. This enables the system to select information that is specific to the situation and then process it in a way that is adapted to the user and the situation. For example, sensitive data can be displayed on the user’s smartphone in a convenient format, while general supplementary information is displayed on the vehicle’s semi-transparent SmartWindow. This allows the larger area of a city rail window to be used for more detail and even for the reality overlaying information (AR). Visualization concepts are being researched and evaluated to provide passengers, for example with information about the route, such as the weather or tourist attractions, in addition to their personal route.

The Institute for Ubiquitous Mobility Systems (IUMS) at Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences coordinates the project and focuses its own research on the development of semantic connectors that enhance public transport data and optimally link it with other relevant data along the travel chain. The researches focus also on the development of new visualization and operating concepts at and with the SmartWindow. In the following, the individual research attentions will be discussed in more detail and the first results of the research project will be presented.

Context adaptivity – information based on needs:

People differ in their preferences, interests and goals. For public transport passengers, a large number of different factors are important: determining how they use public transport, what information they need and how they can or want to be informed. These factors describe passengers, their situation and their use of public transport as contextual information.

Relevant contextual information for SmartMMI is for example: the type of ticket available, preferred payment methods, preferences for public transport use, from avoiding certain types of public transport to avoiding stairs, preferences for few connections or as little waiting time as possible or having a smartphone with a public transport app, as well as many other things. This information that characterizes both the situation and the passenger himself can be used to inform passengers appropriately and personalized.

In order to be able to offer passengers the information and services that are relevant to their situation, context data must first be collected, which then serve to describe the situation in which the passenger finds himself at the current time.

In addition to personal preferences and goals, environmental factors such as the time of day and season, weather conditions and many others are also taken. Context information is also used to make the use of the system as straightforward as possible. In the research project, several adjustments to the visualization on the SmartWindow are planned. For example, if there is a person in the tram whose SmartMMI app is set to a foreign language, the display language for information on the SmartWindow can be modified.

At the same time, the SmartMMI system provides a passive communication between the app on the Smartphone and the SmartWindow in the vehicle. For example, the known destinations of the passengers on board can be used to display relevant fault messages or transfer instructions.

In addition, passenger information requests will be enriched with additional context information from the users. For example if it heavily rains, the SmartMMI system would suggest the connections with stops at protected weather stations.

In touch with mobility information:

Another research focus in the SmartMMI project is investigating the possibilities of using the intelligent city rail window. Here different possibilities of interaction are examined with regard to their suitability. From multi-touch, as is common with tablets and smartphones, to gesture control, similar to that in game consoles (e.g. X-Box), to voice control, similar to speech assistance systems from the home entertainment sector (e.g. Alexa), various interaction options offer different advantages and disadvantages and are more or less suitable for use in different environments and situations. An important task in the research project is now to find out the optimal interaction possibility or if necessary, the optimal combination of interaction modalities and to implement these as user-friendly as possible. To this end, different user studies are planned in the project.

As part of a student project, an online survey was conducted to determine which content and data are important to passengers during a train journey and which of these should be displayed on the SmartWindow. More than 250 participants of different age groups, different experience with public transport and technical affinity took part in the survey. The results give a good insight into the different needs of different passengers.

Following the evaluation of the survey results, a smaller user study examined the arrangement of the found information and data on the SmartWindow with the help of mock-ups, i.e. a prototype implementation of a SmartWindow. The focus here was on the study of which operating elements are recognizable, accessible and easy to use for the users. The development of the user interface between a mobility system such as SmartMMI via different end devices – Smartphone or SmartWindow – and different interaction methods – Multi-Touch, speech or gestures – will be continued in the project with the participation of users. At the end of the project, a prototype of the system will be installed in a railway of the Karlsruher Verkehrsverbund and evaluated in a large field study with different aspects.

These user studies, which will be used to find out in which situations and under which circumstances the test persons interact with the SmartWindow, put the study of user acceptance into focus.

User acceptance, data protection & privacy

The studies carried out will also be used to investigate passenger acceptance of interaction with the SmartWindow under various conditions. It is imaginable for example that the willingness to calculate a route to a certain destination at peak times is less high than in a train with few passengers. The project will examine user acceptance of the system in various situations. The findings will then be used to design the prototypes in further iterations.

Data protection and data security are of major importance in the project. A specific part of the project deals with this topic. The basic decision to encapsulate the user information provided by the passenger on the system side was made very early in the project. This encapsulation allows an intelligent, selective and user-controlled transfer of personal information to the system while at the same time implementing the principle of data minimization. Comprehensible and transparent communication of what information is collected and for which purpose it is used enables passengers to control their data.

In the SmartMMI project, multi-stage solutions of an ambient intelligent travel information system that provides passengers with the best possible support in every situation during their journey in public transport will be researched, developed and tested with users until 2020. At the end of the research project, a six-month field test phase in the KVV network is planned for mid-2020. In this way, the project significantly increases the attractiveness of public transport as an ecological, timesaving and sensible alternative to automobile transport, while at the same time linking it to individual transport. 

Prof. Schlegel from the Institute for Ubiquitous Mobility Systems is pleased to be part of this project and looks forward to exciting results on the many different issues.

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