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Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Institute Research Guide

Carnegie Mellon University, Robotics Institute, Research Guide

Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Accessible Public Transportation (RERC-APT)

The RERC-APT ( is a $4.7M, 5-year ('08 - '13) center (Steinfeld, PI & Co-Director) with two major accessibility components:

In keeping with RI and SCS traditions, the team is highly interdisciplinary and focused on real world problems. Key faculty at CMU from other departments includes Tomasic (ISR) and Zimmerman (HCII and Design). The primary sponsor is the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, which is a brand-new funding source with no significant prior ties to RI.

Information Technology

The CMU portion of the work is centered on information technology, specifically in the space of citizen science and participation through robotic technologies. From a robotics perspective, the basis for the research is to think of transit riders as noisy sensors within a large-scale multi-agent system and mix this model with universal design principles and new approaches to interaction design. Example research and systems being explored by the team include (a) Tiramisu, (b) citizen science reporting of accessibility barriers, and (c) assisted photography for blind and low vision users.


Tiramisu is a mobile phone app that allows users to crowd-source the arrival time and fullness of transit vehicles using GPS enabled smart-phones. This bypasses the need for expensive, proprietary equipment on buses and allows citizens to gather information that impacts their life. Interesting features of this approach is the opportunity to change rider perceptions about transit and to gather previously unobtainable data regarding rider use of transit systems. This system was beta tested over roughly a month in the summer of 2010 and the app is in preparation for public release through the Apple App Store in 2011. A company, Tiramisu Transit, was spun-out in 2010 in advance of this release. CMU's Traffic21 program has supported aspects of this work.

Citizen Science Reporting

One of the team's hypotheses is that transit riders will find value in contributing rich media reports on problems and positive experiences. However, very little knowledge existed on what kinds of rich data to support. The team conducted formal experiments to see how riders, both with and without disabilities, collect rich media data when encountering problems. Results from these experiments were published and incorporated into Tiramisu.

Assisted Photography

In keeping with universal design principles, the team wants to support photographic reporting by riders who are blind or suffer from low vision. Therefore, the team has been developing a mobile-phone machine vision application that assists users in real-time when taking a picture. The technique can be described as a method to improve picture composition, while retaining visual information that is expected to be most relevant. Early versions are currently running on the iPhone platform and user studies are slated for 2011.

Vehicle Design

The vehicle design work is being conducted at the Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access at SUNY Buffalo and includes human subject testing using a full-scale simulated bus. Team members include experts on architecture, planning, and ergonomics. Additional center partners include organizations dedicated to outreach and dissemination (United Spinal Association and Easter Seals; Project ACTION), local transit agencies, and industry (IBM Research - Tokyo, Gillig, American Seating, Lift-U, and Grimshaw-Architects).

Continue Reading: Transportation: Traffic 21


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Project Images

  • Tiramisu: Arrivals Screenshot

  • Assisted Photo Pose

  • Assisted Photo Pose