More often than not, as we commence our trip on trains, trams and buses, our personal bubbles embark on journeys with us. Unbroken and intact they remain until the voice system shouts the name of our much awaited destination and we disembark without having made any social connection. Whether we’re flipping through the pages to our current e-book, listening to our favorite tunes or catching up with the news: our bubbles rob public transport passengers of a sense of community. The paucity of social connections further deprives tourists a wholesome local experience and of vital transport information, as they may be unfamiliar with the city or town.
Esther Kim, a Psychology professor at Yale University elucidates how far and long people go to avoid strangers on public transport. “We engage in all sorts of behaviour to avoid others, pretending to be busy, checking phones, rummaging through bags, looking past people or falling asleep.”
To this effect, the Tiny Happy People Hacking Team pulled two solutions out of their sleeves – namely T-Chat and the ChatDriver during GovHack’s 2019 hackathon. Follow team members, Byron Vickers and Dario Mavec, as they talk us through their creations.
What is T-Chat?
“When we set out to create T-Chat, we thought why not blend technology and public transport together?” says Byron Vickers. On this basis, T-Chat is built as a location-based conversation, information and entertainment app which leverages real-time transport open data to connect users to the community inside their vehicle.
What problems does T-Chat serve to solve?
Dario Mavec went on to say their muse for creating a cohesive system was the Canberra tram which had opened a few months before the hackathon in April 2019. “We wanted people to experience a sense of community while they were on public transport instead of being locked into their phones.”
How does T-Chat bolster usage of public transport as well as intensify reliability and trustworthiness in the system?
“The communication aspect of T-Chat definitely strengthens the trust in the public transport system. More than that, it creates a timely feedback system for local governments and transport authorities to help them cope with delays and work towards enhancing the transport service”, says Dario Mavec.
What effect does T-Chat have in boosting tourism and engaging foreign travelers?
Byron credits the team’s innovation as an effective tool for pushing the tourism industry, he said “T-Chat functions in a manner that it replaces tour guides with its notification facet by which tourists are alerted of activity around the area that they could get themselves involved in. Additionally, it allows tourists to sit in a local bus and interact with the residents in the area thus lending them a local feel that a tourist bus could probably not provide them.” The team has also planned for future iterations to include listings of heritage and landmark locations, while using the vehicle’s real-time GPS location.
What is ChatDriver and how is it different from a usual chatbot?
“The core idea behind it was providing customer service at a simple touch of a button”, says Byron. While ChatDriver works as an AI to power and prolong mobile communities, it’s design and function as a learning AI sets it apart from usual chatbots as it supports a wider variety of requests and languages over time. Further plans for the ChatDriver include quiz-based gaming wherein individual users can compete on their city knowledge within a vehicle, or form teams to compete against different routes as part of a city-wide leaderboard.
Reflecting on current times that we are faced with and looking ahead upon the future of health and safety while on public transport, do you think T-Chat serves to be beneficial? Can it offer contact tracing features?
The idea of blending contact tracing features with an app like T-Chat definitely has “privacy concerns” and with there already being a pre-existing contact tracing app (CovidSafe) from the government’s end, it would be a challenge. However Byron says “Public transport is one of the spaces where people sit together, closer than in usual conditions. T-Chat could definitely prove itself to be useful in that sense. So, if we were able to expand it, there’s no reason for T-Chat to not upgrade itself to a contact tracing app with the option for travelers to opt in when they hop on the vehicle.”
View further details about the teams project below!