Net Taxi

Prof. Papacostas at work.

Oahu is the home of what may be the only taxi in the world to navigate using the World Wide Web. Technology implemented by Dr. C. S. Papacostas of the University of Hawai'i College of Engineering enables taxi driver John Parker to choose his routes depending on which streets have the least traffic.

Most of the main intersections in Honolulu are monitored by cameras that are used by the city's traffic control engineers to regulate the flow of traffic. With the cooperation and support of the city's Traffic Control Center, Professor Papacostas has created a web page that makes the images from these cameras available over the Internet. Warren Yamauchi, Manager of the College's Computer Facility, provided technical support. Users can select a particular street, and the most recent photographs from selected intersections along the street are displayed in their web browser. The site is one of the most popular on the island and has won over 40 awards.

Mr. Parker showing Prof. Papacostas the computer

When Mr. Parker came across the web page last year, he immediately realized its potential. The output from the traffic cameras had been displayed on a cable television channel for some time, and he had been toying with a few ways to make use of the information. He realized how easy it could be to use the web page as opposed to the cable channel, which requires a direct line to the cable infrastructure.

Parker invested in a small laptop computer and a cellular phone. He built a shelf to hold the computer, and attached it to the dashboard of his cab. After strapping the computer to the shelf, and dialing in to the internet using the cell phone, he has access to the traffic cameras wherever he goes.

The "command center"

When a person gets into his taxi and tells him where he or she wants to go the first thing Parker does is look up the traffic conditions on the streets he plans to use. As he is able to look at several intersections along a given street, he knows where traffic problems begin, and is able to plan the trip accordingly. His customers are happy because they don't have to sit in stop-and-go traffic, and they often ask for him by name when calling for a cab.

Dr. Papacostas' foresight in making the cameras accessible over the web, along with Mr. Parker's ingenuity in making use of them have combined to create the first "cybercab".


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