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Posted on Tue, Aug 11, 2009 : 4:05 p.m.

University of Michigan students aim to make waiting for the bus less frustrating

By Ronald Ahrens

Riders standing at bus stops may be able find out how long they'll have to wait, thanks to the efforts of three University of Michigan students.

The students, all graduates of Ann Arbor's Huron High School, have been working from the nearly naked basement of a downtown office building to make public transportation more predictable to use.

They're one of three groups involved in RPM10, a summer internship program for U-M students who have an idea for a technology-based start-up company. During the 10-week program, students develop working prototypes and lay the groundwork to launch a start-up.

Last winter during an open competition, representatives of the engineering college and RPM Ventures, an Ann Arbor Venture capital firm, chose the three teams with the best proposals.

“If you had told me in May we’d be where we are, I wouldn’t have believed you,” said Adam Berkaw, 22, a recent U-M graduate in political science who is president of the project, called Shepherd Intelligent Systems. “We are definitely in our best-case scenario. It’s been really good. The program has real utility.”

Shepherd Intelligent Systems 010[1].JPG

Their project takes existing software from U-M’s “Magic Bus” program of 2005, which was created by engineering students to track the location of university buses and relay the data to riders.

Jahan Naveen Khanna and Schuyler Cohen - the other two partners in the project - worked on the original program. They've added several refinements, blending their own software advances with the ability to relay information to portable devices.

Their project should allow riders to plan their trips with real-time data maps they'd receive through text messages or on computer screens or smart phone displays.

The U-M College of Engineering’s Center for Entrepreneurship provided about $20,000 toward Shepherd Intelligent Systems' project. Local firms such as McKinley & Associates, Bank of Ann Arbor, Miller Canfield, and Renaissance Financial contributed free office space, banking services and legal and accounting advice.

Mentorship on patents and other critical issues was also part of the deal.

Real-world testing on U-M and Ann Arbor Transportation Authority buses may be near. Adaptations of the system are also foreseen for trains, taxis and airport shuttles.

Strategies for pitching the system to transportation managers were refined with the help of seasoned experts, Berkaw said. “We need help to talk to those people and think the way they think.”

Cohen, 22, a senior in aerospace engineering and computer science, turned down internships from Microsoft and Lockheed Martin this summer to work with his long-time friends. He's sharing product development duties with Khanna, 21, who will soon begin graduate study in computer science.

Khanna said the future beyond this summer remains uncertain. If they get customers soon, it’s possible one or more of the partners will take time off school as additional backing for the company is sought.

Photo by Ronald Ahrens for From left, Schuyler Cohen, Adam Berkaw and Jahan Naveen Khanna.

Ronald Ahrens is a freelance writer for Our news desk can be reached at 734-623-2530 or


Matt Van Auker

Mon, Aug 17, 2009 : 4:17 p.m.

Oh, goodness, there's a tremendous prayer.

Chris Dzombak

Thu, Aug 13, 2009 : 11:53 p.m.

It seems these students' project may be more than something like one of these preexisting services: * * the UM Magic Bus mobile page ( * mbusreloaded ( *, my own project to provide an SMS-based interface to certain UM bus routes. (I developed this independently of and without awareness of mbusreloaded; had I been aware of mbusreloaded when I began this project, I wouldn't have created MagicTXT at all.) The article seemed a little vague to me regarding exactly what their project is and how it differs from any of these solutions. They must be aware of at least some of these solutions already. And if they are considering patenting something, it would have to be different - each of the four services I mentioned above demonstrate prior art. Perhaps it's a push-based notification-type system? Even so, I believe a similar service is provided by mbusreloaded.


Wed, Aug 12, 2009 : 11:59 a.m.

I don't get how this is any different than NextBus or MBusReloaded. I go on, it tells me when the bus is coming. I would hate to get a text message every 7 minutes telling me that my bus is coming in 7 minutes...


Wed, Aug 12, 2009 : 8:14 a.m.

@YouWhine: It's VERY nice to know when exactly the bus will be arriving. It lets me time my departure from the office so that I never have to wait more than a minute or two at the bus stop. It's nice to have access from my phone when I'm at lunch or a meeting out of my office, too. Halving the time between buses means doubling your costs. Adding near-perfect predictability costs virtually nothing and gives you similar benefits. I love this technology.

Joel Batterman

Wed, Aug 12, 2009 : 7:41 a.m.

Great work from some fellow River Rats. But certainly, when it comes to "mak[ing] public transportation more predictable to use," increased transit frequencies have also got to be part of the solution. Thirty-minute headways just don't make for convenience. Nonetheless, "real utility" is right.

Scot Graden

Wed, Aug 12, 2009 : 4:34 a.m.

This looks like a great program to engage students in solving a real dilemma. It is nice to see local businesses supporting this type of start to keep young Ann Arbor talent in the area. I would like to see this type of summer program developed for High School students in the area.

Ann Arbor Guy

Wed, Aug 12, 2009 : 12:10 a.m.

Hey, all I can say is that this system is sick...straight ill. When my cold ass is in Ann Arbor in January I'm gonna be toasty as hell snuggling with my girl on the couch a few extra minutes cause I'll know exactly when my ride is outside! sheeeeet


Tue, Aug 11, 2009 : 11:45 p.m.

Okay, so the idea is neat and all, but what is the practical purpose. Neat so you know how long you are going to be standing at a bus stop. So what? Is there an option to make the bus go FASTER? If you are using this application, you are likely already at a bus stop waiting. So now you know if you are going to be standing there 5 minutes or 15. So what? You are riding a bus, what options do you have? Are you going to bust out your Easybake Oven and whip out a caserole if you find out you have a long wait?


Tue, Aug 11, 2009 : 4:40 p.m.

Is it something like this?