SMART BUS LINE
Exhibit in Paris, summer 2006
MIT Design Lab
MIT mobile experience lab
A project of the
MIT mobile experience lab at
MIT Design Laboratory.
In collaboration with RATP.
THE SELF-ORGANIZED LANDMARK The self-organizing bus stop serves as an electronic concierge and
digital gateway to the oﬀerings of both its own neighborhood
and the transportation system at large. Through appropriate use of
digital technology, we can turn bus stops into sensual,
engaging, memorable landmarks that have varied and distinctive
character, and that respond vividly to the unique features of
their contexts and communities in multiple ways, at multiple scales,
and in multiple time frames.
The horse-drawn omnibus was introduced to Paris in the 19th cen-
tury, and the fuel-powered bus in 1906. Today, smart urban
mobility systems – making use of advanced sensing, computing,
and networking technologies – promise a similarly profound
revolution in transportation.
CONCEPT The bus was one of the most successful inventions in the history of
transportation, and it has served cities eﬀectively for a century.
Nowadays, we face new design challenges, and new technologies
can help to meet them.
This exhibit, a concept station – the result of two-year collaboration
between MIT and RATP on Smart mobility – explores their
emerging potential: the bus stop, a self-organizing landmark.
In 1662, Blaise Pascal initiated the world’s ﬁrst public transportation
system – consisting of “ﬁve-penny” horse-drawn carriages. He
also invented a calculator. Smart urban mobility systems belong to
this rich genealogy, and draw these two themes of Pascal’s
imagination together in a new way.
Rethinking the bus system
Urban mobility systems traditionally combine high-speed, high-
volume, point-to-point transportation with more ﬂexible but
slower and lower-volume modalities – walking, bicycling, taking
a taxi, and driving.
Ubiquitous access to information through mobile wireless devices
shifts the balance toward individual mobility. It allows high-
volume transportation to become more ﬂexible and responsive,
and consequently, the traditional distinction between collective and
individual transportation blurs.
Transportation systems can become more responsive to changing
demands, users can make better transportation decisions, and
vehicles can provide important new services.
The Smart Mobility project demonstrates the application of these
concepts to the Paris bus system. Further details can be found
online at http://mobile.mit.edu/bus_stop
Landmark interactive bus stops
The bus stops of smart urban mobility systems function as power-
ful urban landmarks, particularly in areas of the city that need
strengthening of identity and focus.
They can take advantage of twenty-ﬁrst century digital display tech
nology, in the same way that Guimard took advantage of the
industrial technology of his time in his designs for Metro stations.
Electronic, networked bus stops can serve as entry and orientation
points for transportation systems and neighborhoods,
supporting bus line agents – neighborhood concierges – who provide
guidance and advice, both in person and online.
The transportation system can broaden its role from that of a pro-
vider of physical mobility to that of a comprehensive source of
eﬃcient access to the varied and far-ﬂung resources and attractions
of the city.
This exhibit features a working prototype of a landmark interactive
bus stop constructed from inexpensive materials. It does not
have a standardized form, but takes advantage of new design and
fabrication technology to adapt to diﬀerent contexts and needs.
The double sided bus stop, interacting and engaging
Facing the city, the exterior of the prototype bus stop has a
smart skin that senses and responds to the presence of
pedestrians – thus creating a playful, engaging art work. It can
be programmed with a wide range of continu-ally changing
content as appropriate to particular localities and seasons.
This particular prototype employs LEDs embedded in silicone
tiles and video sensing for the smart skin.
Facing the waiting passengers, the interior provides displays
and interaction screens for way-ﬁnding and schedule
information, news, local businesses and points of interest, and
local community networking services.
By embedding electronic intelligence, buses can become more
ﬂexible, so that they wiggle themselves through the streets
in more agile fashion. They can provide eﬀective service to areas
with narrow streets, winding roads, and complex topography.
Use of ﬂexible, versatile buses help to better manage interchanges
among diﬀerent transportation modes, thus making travel
more eﬃcient and less confusing; the “snake” bus can penetrate
more areas of the city, and the “worm” bus can go underground.
Below street level, in addition, the “worm” bus can enter eﬃcient
multimodal interchanges where pedestrians can access multiple
transportation systems – private cars, shared cars, bicycles,
and other public transportation systems. And versatile buses can
combine passenger transport and cargo transportation during
oﬀ peak hours, especially during the night. Furthermore, the
“stadium” bus can provide both a window on the city and a place
for bicycle storage.
Through use of networking, display, and interaction technologies,
buses can now provide many additional services, extending
their role far beyond transportation. They can become mobile
network nodes, so that passengers are connected for guidance,
entertainment, mobile work, and tourism. Both interior and
exterior surfaces can carry information displays. Buses can
increasingly become work, entertainment, and social spaces on
wheels, while their exteriors serve as dynamically programmed
urban information displays.
The bus stop is conceived of as one, continuously modulated
surface that responds to local conditions and functional
requirements by gradually varying shapes, curvatures, and
densities. The structure is composed of non-repetitive,
CAD/CAM-cut ribs that vary in shape and density as required
by structural and other roles. Parametric design allows us
to create bus stops whose shapes are physically adapt to the
surroundings, while maintaining a common underlying identity.
The bus stop form was parametrically modeled, and organized to
support CAD/CAM fabrication. This meant that bus stops
did not need to be standardized and repetitive – expressing a
typically modernist one-size-ﬁts-all design philosophy – but
could potentially be mass-customized to ﬁt particular urban contexts
and opportunities and patterns of transportation demand.
Programmable LEDs in architecture have taken the form of urban
scale screens that simply obliterate traditional architectural
eﬀects. We overcame this limitation by using ﬂexible modular
tiles consisting of coarsely spaced LEDs embedded in cast
silicone, which allows them to conform to the parametric struc-
ture of the bus stop.
In this translucent medium, pixels can ﬂare not only in intensity but
also in size, while the outer surface texture creates specular
gloss and self-shading eﬀects as well. In addition to providing water-
prooﬁng, the calibrated translucency allows an interplay of
natural and artiﬁcial light.
The outside of the bus stop, facing the city, mirrors the internal
urban garden. The skin playfully interacts with people and
engages them by reacting to their behavior. Sensors and cameras
also monitor external environmental activities such as traﬃc,
air and acoustic pollution, and these elements are synthesized with
the ﬂow of digital communication to determine the urban
The bus stop is designed to be a self-organizing landmark, capable
of blending chameleon-like into the neighborhood it is placed in.
Reﬂecting local information, communication, and everyday activity,
its façade elegantly changes over time to gain the markings of a
member of the community.
The interior of the bus stop, used primarily by passengers, contains
two screens dedicated to separate purposes. The ﬁrst screen
houses a location-centric communication and content platform.
The second screen gives access to transportation information.
The bus stop is also an open platform, allowing local artists to create
new interactions for the outside. The artist may chose to insert
elements into the garden, or if they wish, to replace the entire vista
with some fantastic landscape from their imagination.
The second screen is a mean for use by the transportation agency
to communicate information about services, products, service
disruptions, and so on. On this screen, passengers can plan their trip
and download it to their mobile devices. If needed, they can
also start a videoconference with a live transportation agent for help.
All content on this screen is user generated, including entries for
local services, businesses, events, and classiﬁeds. The interface
concept used for this screen is the urban garden, with the trees
serving as interface elements. Each tree represents a topic, and
each leaf a message. The goal of the system is to foster interaction
and communication between the users of the bus stop, and to
allow them to shape the digital form of the bus stop with their own
actions. The exterior, a direct reﬂection of this interface, thus
reflects the richness, flow, and intensity of communication.
On this screen, passengers can plan their trip and download it
to their mobile devices. If needed, they can also start a videocon-
ference with a live transportation agent for help.
The prototype bus stop was part of the exhibtion „Le Bus, cent ans
de mouvement“ in Paris, October 7-14 2006, curated by RATP.
MIT DESIGN LABORATORY Contact
MIT mobile experience lab Federico Casalegno
http://mobile.mit.edu MIT Design Laboratory
MIT mobile experience lab
William J. Mitchell, 238 Main Street, E48-319
Federico Casalegno (Motorola/MIT) 02142 Cambridge, MA, USA
David Bouchard, Marcel Botha, Mirja Leinss, In collaboration with RATP
CREDITS Miguel Menchu, David Raul Poblano, http://www.ratp.fr
Orkan Telhan, Sajid Sadi
Sergio Araya, Onur Yuce Gun, Aaron Tang,
Eric Weber, Caitlin Winner, Cynthia Wilkes
and the MIT Media Lab Smart Cities group.
The MIT mobile experience lab takes a multidisciplinary
approach at understanding people’s experience using
wireless communication technologies, while exploring how
mobile media impact societies, communities and spaces.