17 April 2010

Real Time Notification System

At OpenGovWest I had the opportunity to hear about and discuss a host of innovative ideas involving open data and open government.  One of the most impressive examples that was discussed was OneBusAway, an excellent service that provides real time arrivals of transit buses.  When Brian Ferris introduced himself it was clear the whole room, including me, thought his service was a shining example of what was possible when open data is given a chance.

Brian's app is great for folks who use public transit now, and it makes mass transit even more convenient than it is already, so that goes some distance to reduce carbon emissions.  I got to thinking about that app and what else could be done with transportation and real time notification.  I was thinking what would it be like if grocery stores had rolling mini-marts that worked the same way, and notified you via an application or text message, that they were getting close.  They could have the basics (eggs, cheese, bread, milk, fresh fruits and vegetables) and you would be able to pop out to the street and get what you need.  No more time and gas wasted, and again, less carbon.

What if, indeed.

Fast forward one month, and I experienced this system first hand.  I found out that not only has this system been implemented but it's been in place for many years.  Some small Mexican villages have a scalable, just-in-time goods delivery system in place, complete with real time notification.  Goods ranging from bottled water to propane to fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, cheese and baked goods are transported throughout the city streets.  Families and business are notified 2 to 5 minutes in advance of deliveries the precise goods that will be soon passing through the neighbourhood.  The notification technology used is clean, inexpensive and emissions free and all mexican citizens and visitors are able to use this service for free.

It uses an oscillation of energy that moves through air, water, and other matter, in waves of pressure.  That's right.  Sound.

How does it work?

Vendors travel through the streets of the village either walking, by bicycle or in slow moving vehicles.  As they travel along they either verbally or through a recording, transmit a sound that is unique to them.  If it's a company the sound might be their trademark, if it's an individual entrepreneur she might have her own sound or she might simply announce what she is selling.  Consumers of goods can  hear these sounds from the streets, sidewalks or inside their homes, and because the sounds are distinct, they easily know what's coming.  The sounds are also loud and the vendors travel at a low rate of speed, so foks typically have several minutes to get their money together and prepare to meet the vendor at the door saving time, gas, money and the environment.

I think we sometimes get so caught up in our technology that we forget that there are often simpler, more basic solutions to some of the challenges we face today.  And many times, given the chance, these solutions will evolve on their own, without any grand design or oversite.  Instead of waiting for Apple to ship the next device,  subscribing to a 3G cell plan,  downloading the latest twitter client and then tweeting to my friends about what I am thinking, maybe I will just invite them to go for a walk or a bike ride so we can chat.

Adios amigos.

1 comment:

Helen said...

Wow, thumbs up for the last paragraph of your blog, I think I'll go for that walk now. Technology will be there when I get back. :)