South Korea Blankets Country With Free WiFi On All Public Transit

Wrapping up a multi-year project to provide free WiFi on all public transportation, South Korea’s Ministry of Science and Information and Communications Technology (MSIT) announced that a total of 35,006 buses had been equipped nationwide.

Previously, subscriber-based WiFi had been installed on subways and in subway stations. It was provided privately by two phone carriers and free only for their subscribers. The coverage was spotty and slow, and in 2017 the government took over and implemented a better system. With this announcement, the whole public transportation system is now covered with stable and free WiFi.

We also noticed that the government has released the details of the 220,000 WiFi access points to the public. This includes the location, IP address, and RSSI data for use by people and companies wanting to develop location-based services. What is the state of free WiFi access points in your region, and does it extend to public transportation? Do you find it reliable, or do you use your data plan when out and about?

Interactive Subway Map Talks You Through The Route

Old-school rail monitoring systems had amazing displays of stations and tracks covered in flashing lights that tracked the progress of trains along a route. While it’s unlikely you’ll fit such big iron from the mid-20th century in your home, you can get a similar aesthetic with [Kothe’s] interactive subway information display.

The display relies on an Arduino Mega 2560 Pro Mini as the brains of the operation. It drives strings of WS2812B LEDs which correspond to stations along the various metro lines in the area. Additionally, the microcontroller drives a 4.3″ Nextion LCD display. The Nextion displays have the benefit of acting as a self-contained human machine interface, running their own controller on board. This means the Arduino doesn’t have to spend cycles driving the display, and the Nextion hardware comes with a useful software package for quickly and easily designing GUI interfaces. For further feedback, a DFPlayer MP3 module is used to allow the system to playback prerecorded voice samples that provide information on the rail system. The attractive front panel is made with lasercut acrylic and a color printed acetate sheet.

It’s a build that bears striking similarity to real rail information systems fielded by railways around the world. We can imagine such a device being particularly useful in a backpacker’s hostel or university dorm to help those new to town find their way around. If you prefer a more stripped-back aesthetic, we’ve seen a barebones PCB build done as well. Video after the break.

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Live Map Of London Tube Created In PCB And Lights

If you’re a frequent traveler on a public transit system, it can be helpful to know when the trains or buses are arriving and if there are any delays. We might reach for a tablet to mount on the wall, but that relies on keeping the OS, the software, and its library dependancies up to date. For true reliability you’ll need to build directly in hardware, which is exactly what this map of the London tube system uses.

The base map is printed directly on PCB, with LEDs along each of the major routes to indicate the current location of the trains. A few small chips handle the WiFi connection — it appears to our eye to be an ESP8266 — and pulling the information about the trains from the London Underground API (it would be virtually impossible to build everything for this project in hardware). The hardware can be easily reprogrammed, and with the PCB layout this could be adapted for other public transit fairly easily.

Even apart from the philosophical differences on design between hardware and software approaches, we still appreciate the aesthetic of LEDs on PCB. In fact, we’ve seen a whole host of artwork on PCBs ever since the price came down dramatically in the past two decades.

Thanks to [Al] for the tip!

The OS/2 Operating System Didn’t Die… It Went Underground

One problem with building things using state-of-the-art techniques is that sometimes those that look like they will be “the next big thing” turn out to be dead ends. Next thing you know, that hot new part or piece of software is hard to get or unmaintained. This is especially true if you are building something with a long life span. A case in point is the New York City subway system. Back in the 1990s the transit authority decided to adopt IBM’s new OS/2 operating system. Why not? It was robust and we used to always say “no one ever got fired for buying IBM.”

There was one problem. OS/2 was completely eclipsed by other operating systems, notably Windows and — mostly — has sunk from the public view. [Andrew Egan’s] post covers just how the conversion to a card-based system pushed OS/2 underground all over the Big Apple, and it is an interesting read.

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Hacker Abroad: Visiting Espressif And Surprising Subway Ads

Thursday was my final day in Shanghai. After spending all of Wednesday at Electronica Asia, I headed over to the Espressif Headquarters which is just one subway stop away. This is of course the company behind the well-known ESP8266 and its younger sibling, the ESP32. My host was Ivan Grotkothov, Director of Software Platforms. The backstory on how he found his way to the company is truly interesting, as are the stories he shared on some of the legend and lore surrounding the WiFi capable chips the company makes — and the new one whose existence just leaked out this week.

Join me below for that and few other fun things from my last day in this city of 26 million people.

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Low Tech High Safety And The NYC Subway System

The year is 1894. You are designing a train system for a large city. Your boss informs you that the mayor’s office wants assurances that trains can’t have wrecks. The system will start small, but it is going to get big and complex over time with tracks crossing and switching. Remember, it is 1894, so computing and wireless tech are barely science fiction at this point. The answer — at least for the New York City subway system — is a clever system of signals and interlocks that make great use of the technology of the day. Bernard S. Greenberg does a great job of describing the system in great detail.

The subway began operation in 1904, well over 30 years since the above-ground trains began running. A clever system of signals and the tracks themselves worked together with some mechanical devices to make the subway very safe. Even if you tried to run two trains together, the safety systems would prevent it.

On the face of it, the system is very simple. There are lights that show red, yellow, and green. If you drive, you know what these mean. But what’s really interesting is the scheme used at the time to make them light.

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DARPA Goes Underground For Next Challenge

We all love reading about creative problem-solving work done by competitors in past DARPA robotic challenges. Some of us even have ambition to join the fray and compete first-hand instead of just reading about them after the fact. If this describes you, step on up to the DARPA Subterranean Challenge.

Following up on past challenges to build autonomous vehicles and humanoid robots, DARPA now wants to focus collective brainpower solving problems encountered by robots working underground. There will be two competition tracks: the Systems Track is what we’ve come to expect, where teams build both the hardware and software of robots tackling the competition course. But there will also be a Virtual Track, opening up the challenge to those without resources to build big expensive physical robots. Competitors on the virtual track will run their competition course in theĀ Gazebo robot simulation environment. This is similar to the NASA Space Robotics Challenge, where algorithms competed to run a virtual robot through tasks in a simulated Mars base. The virtual environment makes the competition accessible for people without machine shops or big budgets. The winner of NASA SRC was, in fact, a one-person team.

Back on the topic of the upcoming DARPA challenge: each track will involve three sub-domains. Each of these have civilian applications in exploration, infrastructure maintenance, and disaster relief as well as the obvious military applications.

  • Man-made tunnel systems
  • Urban underground
  • Natural cave networks

There will be a preliminary circuit competition for each, spaced roughly six months apart, to help teams get warmed up one environment at a time. But for the final event in Fall of 2021, the challenge course will integrate all three types.

More details will be released on Competitor’s Day, taking place September 27th 2018. Registration for the event just opened on August 15th. Best of luck to all the teams! And just like we did for past challenges, we will excitedly follow progress. (And have a good-natured laugh at fails.)