Category Archives: SmartHelp

Smarthelp: Locating and messaging passengers

 

If you are a public transportation company: How do you tell your prospective passengers that their travel plans may have to change?

Public transportation companies know a lot about their passengers’ travel patterns, but not as much as you would think – and, surprisingly, they know less now when ticket sales have been automated than they used to know before.

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RuterBillett – a ticketing app

Let’s take a concrete company as an example: Ruter AS, the public transportation authority of Greater Oslo. Ruter is a publicly owned company that coordinates various suppliers of transportation services (bus, tram, train, some ferries) in the Oslo area. The company has been quite innovative in their use of apps, selling most of their tickets on the RuterBillett app, and having many of their customers plan their journey on the RuterReise app. The apps are very popular because they make it very easy both to figure out which bus or train to take, and to buy a ticket.

The company has a problem, though: While they know that someone bought a ticket on the ticketing app, they don’t know which particular bus, tram or other service the passenger took (a ticket typically gives you one hour of open travel on their services, no matter how many of them you use).

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RuterReise – a journey planning app

They could get some information from what people have been searching for, but the two apps are not linked, and they don’t know whether a passenger who searched for a particular route actually bought a ticket and did the journey – or not. There are many reasons for this lack of knowledge, but privacy issues – Norway has very strict laws on privacy – are import. Ruter does not want to track where its customers are travelling, at least not if it in any way involves identifying who a passenger actually is.

Not knowing where passengers are is a problem in many situations: It creates difficulties for dimensioning capacity, and it makes it difficult to communicate with passengers when something happens – such as a bus delay or cancellation.

Identifying travel patterns and communicating with passengers

The problem for Ruter is that they want to know where people are travelling (so they can figure out how many buses or trams they need to schedule), they ned to know who regularly takes certain journeys (so they know whom to send a message to if that route is not working) and they need to know who is in a certain area at a certain time (so they don’t send you a message about your bus being delayed if you are out of town, for instance). All of this is easy, except for one thing: Norway has very strict privacy laws – already quite similar to EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, which goes into effect in 2018 – and Ruter cares deeply about not being seen as a company that monitors where people travel.

In short, they need to know where you travel, but do not want to know who you are.

This is a seemingly impossible challenge, but Smarthelp Secure Infrastructure, in combination with Smart Decision Support, makes it possible. The communications platform creates an end-to-end encrypted communication channel between a central system and the smartphone. Using technology developed because we had to solve the problem of medical-level encrypted communication between emergency centers and individual users, Smarthelp has technology that allows someone to track specific information you allow access to – say, the fact that you are in a certain area, or that you regularly travel certain paths – without sharing other information, such as your name.

This would allow Ruter, when something happens, to send a message to people who a) regularly takes, say, bus route 85, and who b) is in an area where it is conceivable that they could take the bus, given their prior patterns, the time of day, and so on. For the individual passenger, this would mean that you only get pertinent messages – you don’t get messages about bus routes you don’t normally take (unless you actually get on the bus), and you don’t get messages when you are far enough from the bus that it is clear you are not going to take it anyway. In a world of information overload, this is extremely important – flood the user with many messages, and they do not read them.

The future of public transportation

A selective message and geolocation service, such as Smarthelp provides, is an evolutionary step, an optimization of the current way transportation is coordinated. In the long term (especially if we start to talk about seld-driving vehicles), the whole way we coordinate public transportation will change. As one Ruter employee told me: A public transportation company is “someone who takes you from a place you are not to a place you don’t want to go.”

The next step in public transportation is that the users tells the company not just that they want to get on the bus, but also where they want to go. I have been told that in an experiment, Telenor found that, one sunny summer afternoon, fully half of their employees (located at Fornebu outside Oslo) planned to go to Huk, a public beach on Bygdøy. The distance from Telenor’s headquarters at Fornebu is 10 minutes by car, but takes more than 30 minutes by public transportation, involving two bus routes. If Ruter had known about these travel plans, though, it could have just rolled up some buses and driven the employees directly, vastly improving the service – and avoiding clogging up the regular buses to Bygdøy.

And that is the future of public transportation: Instead of planning where you will go in terms of geography, you will tell the public transportation company where you want to go, and they will get you there. With self-driving cars, they will be able to tell you when you will be at your destination – but, perhaps, not willing to tell you the actual route. As a passenger, you probably will not care – after all, what matters to you is when you arrive, not by which route.

That would, in effect, mean that we have transitioned public transportation from line switching to packet switching, effectively turning the bus into the Internet. But that is for the future.

In the meantime, there is Smarthelp.


(I am on the board of Råd AS, a company that has developed the platform SmartHelp for Norwegian emergency services, allowing shared situational awareness, communication and privacy. The company is now seeking customers and collaborators outside this market.)

Smarthelp is a platform technology consisting of, at present, three elements: Smarthelp Rescue, an app for iPhone and Android that allows users to transmit their position to an emergency service; Smarthelp Decision Support, a decision support system which allows an operator to locate and communicate with users (both with the app and without), and Smarthelp Secure Infrastructure, a granularly encrypted communications platform for secure, private communication. If you want more information, please contact me or Fredrik Øvergård, CEO of SmartHelp.

SmartHelp: Locating employees in a crisis

If there is a crisis – do you know where your people are?

Imagine the situation: An event (terrorist attack, industrial accident, public transportation accident) of some proportion happens. Many people are hurt, lots of rumors abound, emergency services are responding. Almost immediately, the question arises: Are any of my employees affected by this – and do they need help?

At present, most organizations locate their employees by calling them or sending emails. This is slow and ineffective – when Norway was hit by a terrorist bomb in the Oslo city centre in 2011 during the summer holiday, it took one of the large newspapers more than two days of frantic telephoning to find all their employees. Most of the employees were, of course, just fine, but the company still had to locate them all. In such a situation, knowing who is not in danger quickly is very important, because it lets you concentrate resources on those who need help.

Smarthelp Decision Support, the emergency service communication platform, allows an organization to quickly – within minutes – determine where its employees are and whether they need help. Smarthelp does this while maintaining privacy of the individual employee.

Most large organizations have a system where employees register where they travel on business. For this service to work, the employee has to remember to update it, though for some companies, this happens automatically if they purchase their tickets through a specific travel agency. While this may help, people travel for pleasure, deviate from their itineraries, forget to register their travels, and purchase their tickets from the cheapest, rather than the official source. Consequently, nobody knows where they really are.

SmartHelp Decision Support (see picture) allows the company to set up a geographical area surrounding the event, and contact all their employees (based on lists of telephone numbers) to determine whether they are inside this area or not.

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Here is another example: You are responsible for security in a large company facility – say, an office building. The company receives a bomb threat which necessitates evacuating the building with thousands of employees. If the employees have SmartHelp on their phones, you can communicate with them all, and determine whether they (or at least their smartphones have left the building (limited by GPS accuracy). You can define a rallying point or area and get an automatic message as soon as someone enters the area, allowing you to quickly determine who is not accounted for. (At this point, GPS location – which we use – does not allow precise location inside a building, but that could change as WiFi locationing services get better.)

rumorsparisAnother advantage is information: In the November 2015 terrorist attack in Paris happened, there where (as is usual) lots of rumors circulating in the hundreds of thousands of Twitter messages and other social channels. With SmartHelp, the authorities would have been able to send targeted messages to specific areas, conveying a precise and autorative message across a cacophony of noise and misinformation.

SmartHelp works anywhere in the world where there is mobile reception (I have used it to signal my position to my host in Shanghai, for instance.) Privacy is handled through an ingenious cryptographic architecture that is secure and fast – the platform is certified for the medical information under the Norwegian data privacy laws, among the strictest in the world.

If you want more information, please contact me or Fredrik Øvergård, CEO of SmartHelp.


(I am on the board of Råd AS, a company that has developed the platform SmartHelp for Norwegian emergency services, allowing shared situational awareness, communication and privacy. The company is now seeking customers and collaborators outside this market.)

Smarthelp is a platform technology consisting of, at present, three elements: Smarthelp Rescue, an app for iPhone and Android that allows users to transmit their position to an emergency service; Smarthelp Decision Support, a decision support system which allows an operator to locate and communicate with users (both with the app and without), and Smarthelp Secure Infrastructure, a granularly encrypted communications platform for secure, private communication. If you want to see how the system works in a 911 central situation, see this video:

SmartHelp – geolocation for crisis situations

I am on the board of SmartHelp – a platform for crisis communication for emergency services (or, indeed, for any company that needs to locate its assets or employees in a hurry). The platform has been running in production in two emergency services (fire and ambulance) in Trondheim, Norway, since December 2014. It allows the public to contact the emergency service via a Smartphone interface, give precise details about where they are automatically, and also to chat and share their medical information (fully encrypted up to a medical standard.)

Here is a video demonstrating how the system works:

We are currently seeking partners for marketing and further developing this platform outside the Norwegian emergency service market. Please contact me (self@espen.com, +47 4641 0452) or Fredrik Øvergård, CEO (fredrik@radvice.no, +47 977 32 708)  for further information.