Cox Collaboratory creates smart solutions to improve on-campus transportation

This academic year alone, Arizona State University's Student Accessibility and Inclusive Learning Services (SAILS) has served more than 7,000 on-campus and online students and faculty, with about 10 to 20 new registration forms coming in daily.

SAILS, formerly the Disability Resource Center, provides accommodations like testing assistance, note-taking services and alternative format services, receiving text materials in audio text, Braille, large print and more.

Another key service SAILS provides is on-campus transportation to students, faculty and staff through DART Transportation Services. However, the process for students to register for the DART program and track their rides was outdated.

To improve user experience for students and create efficiencies for their staff, they partnered with the Cox Connected Environments Collaboratory to explore new processes and technologies.

Today, SAILS and the Cox Collaboratory are working together to tackle two projects: a system to better track the transportation used in the DART programs and an interface and mobile app that improves the experience — for example, making it easier to request, track and cancel rides — for students, faculty and staff.

Here, Chad Price, ASU director of education development and disability resources, shares more about SAILS and the process of working with the Cox Collaboratory, as well as their hopes for the project and advice for others who are in need of tech solutions.

Chad Price

Question: Introduce us to SAILS and how you support the Sun Devil community.

Answer: Our big focus is ensuring students have access to their educational experience at ASU. We are a resource for students who have disabilities. After meeting with students to determine the impact of their disability, we are able to ascertain the kind of accommodations that will ensure that they have the right kinds of access to succeed.

One of those accommodations is through DART, which helps transport Sun Devils with a permanent or temporary physical disability that prevents them from getting around campus in a reasonable amount of time.

Q: What are the challenges that SAILS is exploring with the Cox Collaboratory?

A: Our challenge was identifying a product to help manage scheduling and tracking rides, for both staff and students, that was specific to a college environment. We envisioned something like Lyft or Uber geared towards a campus.

We wanted to find a way that we can help track our carts to know where they were at any given time, which would ultimately improve our scheduling. What was important to us was making sure that students were more informed about their upcoming rides.

Q: How has your process been working with Cox and what is the current status of the project?

A: In the beginning, they sat down with us and really heard what we were looking for and what we're trying to accomplish. 

After building out a course of action together, they started to develop prototypes and models for us to begin testing. One of the things that we were looking at was a GPS-like system that we started testing using our LoRA network — which is a wireless technology that offers long range, low-power and secure data transmission. We tested the system on an Android device, a tablet, a cell phone to understand how different devices would function in the environment. At the same time, they put together programs to help track data. 

We’ve continued to meet regularly for them to give us feedback and updates, and with ASU’s University Technology Office, who is also working on user interface aspects for us. The Cox Collaboratory team even talked to some of our riders to get input from them to see what their experience was and where we could improve. 

It’s been fun to see the design process of what the Cox team is trying to accomplish based on the input from us, the customer, and to look at all of the stakeholders that would be involved.

Q: What have been some of the challenges or successes throughout the project?

A: Working through the technical aspects of it from our side, like the LoRA system, has been most challenging. Some of our staff aren't as familiar with the technology that is being used, so it’s a learning curve. Technical challenges include making sure that sensors are placed properly on the carts to be able to track them and how it might be beneficial for us to understand that.

But, overall, I can't think of a lot of challenges that have come up because everybody's been so good at communicating and keeping us up to up to date on what's happening.

For successes, I am seeing some of the things that are being done to create this product — using these sensors within the larger system and developing the online interface — and they’re pretty amazing. The ultimate goal is to make things more accessible.

Q: How can this tech solution help others?

A: Even though we're a small-scale operation of DART services, what we're working on could have value in lots of different places from a city — maybe paratransit, for example — and other universities facing similar challenges. There's a lot of potential available going through the process, and it's just finding where those needs are and using this solution.

Q: What advice would you give to others who on campus may have a tech problem that could benefit from the Cox Collaboratory?

A: Ask questions and share your challenges. It was validating to have people hear what we're saying and realize there’s definitely an opportunity. We rely on the Collaboratory to work on a solution.

Everybody that we’ve had an opportunity to work with through the Collaboratory — that’s both Cox and UTO — they’ve been fantastic. Having our team be hands-on by asking questions and getting us involved, leading us through the process, that has made our experience very positive. We can't wait to get our hands on the product and run with it.

Do you have a big idea on how to solve a problem through smart tech? Share it here.

Stephanie King
sjeanine@asu.edu