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Tech used in your daily commute

tfl tubeEver thought about the tech you take for granted that’s behind your commute? Dice has had a look at all the clever stuff that you will come in contact with and/or use on your way in to work and back home again.

Dice – formerly the IT Job Board, has investigated the journey almost everyone in London makes each day in order to get to the day job and back.

Let’s walk through the ticket barriers, down the escalators and into the underground on a voyage of everyday discovery.

The aim of the investigation was to answer three big questions:

  1. What happens when you scan your Oyster card?
  2. How do escalators really work?
  3. How does Wi-Fi on the Tube work?

Phil Young, Head of Online at Transport for London (TfL), spoke exclusively to answer some of these questions:

We always look to put our customers and users at the centre of everything we do”.

Young explained to us the importance of free open data, stating:

Getting the latest travel information direct to customers when and where they want it is key to enabling them to make the best possible journeys, avoiding delays or closures. Millions of Londoners use apps powered by our free open data, alongside our website, to check the Tube, find a bus or see how the roads are running. In an age of digital innovation, the opportunities that providing free open data can present are incredibly exciting and seemingly endless.”

Top TfL Facts

Here are some of the headline factoids according to the Travel in London report, provided by TfL.

In 2015, London’s population stood at 8.6 million, equaling the previous high point of 1939. This reflects strong growth since the start of the century, and the need for technology advancements…

  • A total of 26.6 million trips were made on an average day in 2014
  • 2% higher than the previous year and 8.2% more than in 2008
  • By 2041, it’s predicted that there will be a staggering 5.5 million more trips made each day

What happens when you scan your Oyster card?

The very first Oyster cards were launched in July 2003 and operated with a basic MIFARE microchip.

As well as the limited computing power, security concerns were soon raised, such as:

  • In 2008, a team of Danish researchers cloned other people’s ‘smartcards’ and travelled for free
  • Security experts highlighted the same microchips were being used in ID cards that allowed access to thousands of secure buildings and locations – This put public safety at risk

So, what changed?

tfl oyster cardThe original microchips were replaced with the more advanced radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology – the same used by near field communication (NFC) in our smartphones

Here’s how the Oyster cards work

  1. The card acts like a tiny computer inside your wallet
  2. When the card is placed near the RFID reader, it creates an electromagnetic field between the two
  3. This allows the data to be transferred to the card identifying the start or end of your journey, and writing data back to the reader

The latest Oyster cards have their own operating system, file structure for storing data, and encryption capabilities. Clever cards!

But the really clever bit…

  • These computers don’t need a power source – the reader transmits energy to the card in the form of radio waves, generating power produced by electromagnetic induction
  • This gives the microchip just enough energy to allow access to the data inside

Did you know…?

Each Oyster card has its own unique number. TfL holds journey and transaction data about every Oyster card for up to eight weeks (although full registration details are held centrally, not on individual cards).

Oyster card data has been used increasingly over the last decade or so as an investigative tool by the police, who first have to request access from TfL.

You can check the TfL website to see what journeys you have made with your card over the past eight weeks, and whether you’ve been overcharged by faulty readers. Well worth doing!

You can now use your contactless payment card to travel on the TfL network – remember to avoid card clash though! Also it’s worth knowing that, if you do use your bank card to travel, you won’t get access to your travel data.

How do escalators really work?

First a bit of history. Did you know that the first escalator was installed at Earl’s Court in 1911?

Well, since then, there now are 430 throughout the Tube network alone, compared to just 167 lifts

So, how do they work? Here’s the escalator process

  • Tube escalators have a pair of chains at their core, looped around two pairs of gears
  • A 100-horsepower electric motor drives the top gears, which in turn rotates the chain loops; as the chains move, the steps always remain level
  • The motor also moves the handrail – a rubber conveyor belt configured to move at the same speed as the steps

TFL escalatorBut what’s special about tube escalators?

  • They operate 20 hours per day, 7 days a week, carrying millions of each year at speeds of up to 180ft per minute
  • They also have full suppression, communication and fire detection systems built into them, which have to be tested and approved before they can be made available for public use
  • There are approximately 15,000 moving parts in a typical escalator, maintaining them is an ongoing task and work can take months to complete.

Facts about Tube escalators

  • Escalators in tube stations carry on average 10,000 people per hour, or around 1.3 billion each year.
  • All escalators have to be refurbished after 20 years and replaced after 40 years.
  • Over the course of its lifetime, a typical escalator will travel the equivalent distance of going to the moon and back.
  • The longest escalator is at Angel, measuring 60m long with a vertical rise of 27.5m – anyone who has started to walk up it will have felt it.
  • The shortest can be found at Stratford, coming in at just 4.1m

How does Wi-Fi on the Tube work?

The 2012 London Olympics prompted the need to help large volumes of travelers get around. Virgin Media’s Tube Wi-Fi network has now become a standard part of people’s daily commute.

The Wi-Fi hotspots are designed to provide access in ticket halls and on platforms – not between stations. Once you have connected your tablet and/or smartphone, your device will automatically re-connect at the next Wi-Fi enabled station.

TFL wifiWi-Fi – how to hook up

  1. Hidden wireless transmitters are placed around the tube stations that distribute coverage for the whole platform
  2. Users can connect to the hotspot free of charge and use Wi-Fi on their phones

Did you know…?

Those who have contracts with EE (Orange and T-Mobile), Three, Vodafone, O2 and Virgin, can access the Wi-Fi for free at 253 stations – that’s an impressive 95% of the Tube network.

Tourists (or those on other contracts) can still access it, but they’ll have to pay for the privilege of getting online underground.

Commuter technology

Well, I hope you enjoyed that little insight in to the everyday tech that might help make getting to work a little easier.

Thanks to Dice for the information.

Tech used in your daily commute

by Jay Garrett time to read: 5 min
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