A group of Engineering students has developed an application to improve efficiency in Penn Transit.

As part of the year-long Senior Design Project for engineering students, four students created an Android application to optimize routes for Penn Transit shuttles. The app, called PennRoute, is housed on an HTC tablet. On April 13, the PennRoute system was successfully deployed for the first time on Penn Transit shuttles.

Prior to using this new system, the Penn Transit shuttle drivers had to manually write all passenger drop-off locations in a log sheet and map out the drop-off routes in their minds. According to the team, the app works to automatically sort all drop-off destinations in order of distance before sorting out the optimal route to take. Through integration with Google Maps, the app identifies the shortest route to drop passengers off.

“The idea came because I live off-campus, so I take the Penn Transit shuttle every day,” said Engineering and Wharton senior Xiaoting Zheng, a member of the group, which also includes Engineering seniors Yuanjiao Shen and Ruxin He and Engineering and Wharton senior Ting Zhou. “After taking it for a while, I realized that there’s got to be a better way to do this.”

Zheng explained that they approached Penn Transit with the idea for the project early last year.

“We welcome any opportunity to do projects with students,” Associate Director of Penn Transit Services Matthew Brown said. He explained, for example, that Penn Transit regularly communicates with the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly about improving the service by adding or changing routes.

“However, this is the first time students have approached us with an idea to improve the system with their own designs,” Brown said. He added that Penn Transit suggested that the students apply for a Penn Green Fund grant to obtain additional funding for the project.

Last year, PennRoute was one of eight projects that received a grant from the Green Fund. It won for its demonstrated savings in fuel consumption, mileage and carbon emissions. The group used the money from the fund to purchase four HTC tablets, which were installed in four Penn Transit shuttles for the pilot implementation of the project.

Zhou said that the environmental analysis they did through simulation showed that use of the app would reduce 30 percent of fuel consumption.

Besides the environmental savings, Brown said the app would overcome a lot of common training hurdles Penn Transit currently faces with new drivers. “The tablet eliminates the problem of drivers being unfamiliar with the best routes and also reduces travel time.”

The group’s adviser is environmental studies professor Andrew Huemmler. Zheng said that Huemmler’s experience was valuable for ensuring the project worked as intended.

On April 24, the app also won the Norman Gross Award, the top award for Senior Design Projects in the Department of Electrical and Systems Engineering. The project will represent the department in the School of Engineering and Applied Science senior design competition on Friday. The competition features the best projects from each SEAS department in competition for the school-wide top three prizes.

According to Zheng, PennRoute has received much positive feedback from drivers as well as passengers.

Brown said that Penn Transit will continue to have constant communication with the students for any modifications in response to drivers’ feedback.

“It’s very rare that a Senior Design project is fully implemented by the end of the school year,” Huemmler said. “The project should bring immediate benefits to every student getting home at the end of the day.”

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