Bus Stop Kiosk
09/2015 - 12/2015
Taking buses to travel between the west, east, and central campuses is an essential part of students’ lives at Duke University. Every day, students rely on the bus arrival times and locations provided in the TransLoc app to either get to places on time or make changes to their schedules. While the TransLoc app is extremely useful, it’s not the most ideal way to get bus information for people waiting at bus stops. For those carrying things in their hands, wearing gloves, or engaged in meaningful conversations or other activities, checking the bus information on their phones could be quite inconvenient. There are also a lot of people, especially campus visitors, who don’t have the TransLoc app installed on their phones.
Wanting to make it more convenient for people to get bus information and make the information available to everyone, I decided to build a WiFi-connected, solar-powered kiosk that shows real-time bus information that can potentially be installed at the Duke Chapel bus stop, the busiest bus stop at Duke. After pitching this idea to Victor Chen and Tze Kang Ng, they both decided to jump on board.
As the team leader, I was responsible for setting the major goals for this project, distributing tasks among team members, and ensuring that we were making progress on a daily basis. As the team member with the most experience in electrical design, I was responsible for creating the proof of concept, the selection and testing of most of the electrical components, and the PCB design.
The video shows my teammate Victor Chen giving an overview of the project while the device is in action. Below are pictures showing the progression of this project from a proof of concept to a temporary installation on Central Campus. All the design files and source code for this project are available here.
To confirm that it’s possible to get real-time bus information using a WiFi module, I built a proof of concept using an Electric Imp, an Atmega328P, a 4x20 LCD, and a few other components. The code running on the Electric Imp server makes API requests to get the "next arrival time" for all the routes serving the Duke Chapel bus stop, and sends the processed data to the Electric Imp module. The Imp then relays the data to the ATmega328P, which drives the LCD.
Originally we wanted to use a flip-dot display due to its low standby power consumption and excellent visibility in direct sunlight. However, we soon discovered that the only flip-dot display available for purchase was about 15 times more expensive than an LED matrix of the same size. Due to our limited budget, we opted for the latter. We purchased four 32x16 LED matrices on eBay, and connected them together to form a 64x32 LED matrix display.
We designed a backplate that the four LED matrices can be mounted on, and printed it on a Gigabot 3D printer. With a bed size of approximately two feet by two feet, the Gigabot allowed us to easily 3D print the large structural pieces we needed for this project. Later on, we also printed the enclosure for both the LED matrix display and the bus location map on the Gigabot.
One disadvantage of the LED matrix display is high power consumption. Hoping to create an energy self-sufficient system, we decided to use an ambient light sensor to measure the outdoor brightness so that the LED display brightness can be adjusted accordingly to save power. After doing some research, I decided on the TSL2561 light sensor due to its popularity among electronics hobbyists.
In addition to the LED display, we decided to create a dynamic map that shows real-time bus locations. The Transloc API provides bus locations in longitude and latitude, from which the distances between the bus and the two nearest bus stops can be calculated. The location of each bus can then be estimated based on these distances. In the picture, the locations of buses of three different routes are displayed on a strand of WS2811 LEDs arranged in the shape of the road.
I designed this PCB in EAGLE, ordered the components from Digi-Key, and assembled the PCB using a toaster oven. In addition to the Electric Imp module and the ATmega328P microcontroller, I used an LMZ12010 10W buck converter to power the 5V LED display, an LMZ21701 1W buck converter to power the 3.3V components, and an INA226 current sensor to monitor the power consumption of the entire system.
The PCB Rev. 1 was designed to be used together with a solar charge controller that handled charging the battery. It didn't take long before I realized this setup was far from ideal. First, the off-the-shelf solar charge controller had a relatively high quiescent current (approximately 13mA), making it more difficult for the system to be self-sufficient. Second, the solar charge controller did not allow the power generated from the solar panel to be monitored remotely.
Because of the two issues with the solar charge controller, I decided to design my own solar charger circuit for PCB Rev. 2. I created a design using the LT3652 battery charger IC. I replaced the fuse box with SMD fuses, and added two more INA226 current sensors to monitor the power generated by the solar panel and the power going into the battery. I also added a terminal block for connecting the solar panel, and another for the LED strip.
The quiescent current of the solar charger circuit I designed was significantly lower than that of the off-the-shelf solar charge controller (<100μA vs 13mA). Since both the battery and the solar panel plugged directly into the PCB, the wiring became a lot simpler. And with the additional current sensors, both the power generation and consumption of the system could be remotely monitored in the Electric Imp IDE.
We constructed a stand for things to be mounted on. At the top, a 50W solar panel was attached to a rotating mount. Below that, the LED display sat on a bar welded to the pole. A polycarbonate sheet was used as the back panel of the 3D printed enclosure. At the bottom, a 12V 35Ah battery was stored in the aluminum box. To waterproof the whole system, we covered the 3D printed pieces with AeroMarine epoxy, and filled all the gaps with silicone.
By cutting it into pieces and reconnecting them with thin enameled wires, we shaped an APA102 LED strip to cover all the bus routes that serve the Duke Chapel bus stop. During this process, we taped the LED strip to a plexiglass sheet to prevent it from moving. We then taped a printout of the map to the underside of an identical plexiglass sheet, and placed it on top of the LED strip. The two plexiglass sheets were then bolted together, and placed in a 3D printed enclosure.
We cut a tiny hole near the upper-left corner of the map printout, and placed the light sensor between the two plexiglass sheets. We positioned the bus location map right below the LED matrix display, and bolted the enclosure to the aluminum pole. In this picture, locations of the C1 and C4 buses are displayed on the map. To avoid any confusion, we used the same colors as the ones in the TransLoc app to represent the four bus routes.
The final project demo took place twelve weeks after we started working on this project. We carried the Bus Stop Kiosk to the Duke Chapel bus stop, and placed it there for almost an hour for some final testing, recording the power generation and consumption data, and showing it to other Duke students. It didn't take long before pictures of the device started popping up on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media.
After a lengthy period of planning and negotiating, we finally got our Bus Stop Kiosk installed at the "Anderson at Lewis" bus stop on Central Campus. We removed the LED display and the bus location map from the stand, and mounted them to the frame of the bus stop shelter. The battery was stored in a metal box secured to the shelter frame, and the solar panel was mounted on top of the sloped roof, facing south.