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VTA Opens Innovation Center to Incubate and Test New Ideas

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VTA opened a new Innovation Center at our River Oaks headquarters on Feb. 18 as a space where VTA teams, companies, startups and students can develop, test and showcase new transportation technology. The technology displayed at the open house, like the innovation underway here at VTA, ranged from transit trip planning and biking to connected cars and security.

VTA is looking at all kinds of ways to improve the transit customer experience, offer better transportation choices, and optimize our vehicles, roadways and other mobility infrastructure. The innovation center is a space to focus on these efforts. It’s also a living laboratory for testing technology, with a station holding much of the equipment installed on buses, trains and stations.

See photos of the event on VTA’s Flickr photostream and follow @VTA on Twitter to keep up on our innovation activities.

“We need to put ourselves in the positions of customers” to understand what technology could help make transit more appealing, said VTA Board of Directors member and San Jose Vice Mayor Rose Herrera. The North San Jose Transportation Innovation Zone is a good example of her city and VTA collaborating for innovation, she said.

“The Innovation Center will bring Silicon Valley to the Valley Transportation Authority,” said VTA General Manager and CEO Nuria Fernandez. “It’s an incubator of new ideas and a developer of existing ideas that have not been applied to transit.”

As economic and population growth puts more and more pressure on our limited infrastructure, “we need to figure out how we’re going to maximize the use of our transportation network,” Fernandez said. The Internet of Things, which refers to the increasing wireless connectivity between everyday objects such as vehicles, refrigerators and watches, will help.

Get Something Done

Innovation is about more than technology. But many of the exciting projects we have underway are focused on tech: mobile apps, connected vehicles, big data, and using Silicon Valley's ingenuity to invent new approaches to transit, connected vehicles and mobility.

“Ideas are fantastic but what really counts are solutions. VTA is about solutions,” said Doug Davenport, Executive Director of Prospect Silicon Valley, which administers the North San Jose Transportation Innovation Zone in which the Innovation Center sits. “We’re trying to get something done. We partner with doers.”

Vijay Sammeta, City of San Jose Chief Information Officer, also noted a long history of innovative partnership with VTA. “Smart cities and the Internet of Things require collaboration,” he said, and that collaboration can “reshape the way we think about public transportation.”

Such significant shifts are expected in how our society gets around that some call it “disruption,” including Tony Seba, a Stanford University Lecturer in Entrepreneurship, Disruption and Clean Energy who spoke at the opening. Seba is also the author of ​“Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation: How Silicon Valley Will Make Oil, Nuclear, Natural Gas, Coal, Electric Utilities and Conventional Cars Obsolete by 2030." ​​

What’s your big idea for transportation innovation? Tell us in the comments what you’d like to see us working on in the Innovation Center, or share your ideas and vote on others at http://bit.ly/180ja1m.

Innovation Underway at VTA

Here are some examples of the technology on display at the opening or that we’re working on developing:
  1. A zero emissions vehicle with dynamic, on-demand routing directing its driver to pick you up with a request from your smartphone—we’re requesting proposals for the software to drive this and looking closely at the operational challenges.
  2. Bluetooth beacons throughout the system to tell smartphone apps where you are so they can help you plan your trip, improve accessibility or offer you coupons—this will be a central focus of Hack My Ride 2015, VTA’s app challenge starting this summer.
  3. Expanding our popular TransLoc real-time light rail arrival app to our bus fleet, as requested by our customers.
  4. An open-source, multimodal  trip planner for any combination of transit, walking, biking, park and ride, bike share and driving (if you must). You can customize your biking directions based on your safety, climbing and speed preferences.
  5. Touch screen and LCD monitors at light rail stations and transit hubs to provide real-time information, trip planning help, and more.
  6. A pilot big data project with Allied Telesis to share and analyze camera feeds, sensors and social media in the cloud, enabling better collaboration with security partners for Super Bowl 50.
  7. Working with startup Transitmix, a Code for America spinoff backed by Y Combinator, to move from paper and spreadsheets to an immediately responsive online transit planning tool that can engage the public and improve planning.
  8. Working with our North San Jose neighbor Cisco on the Internet of Things for transportation—buses that talk to trains that talk to bus stops that talk to traffic signals that talk to bikes that talk to...you get the idea.

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