UCT expo showcases student developed technologies to the public and investors

Silicon Cape
27 Oct 2009

UCT students aim to revolutionise public transport

The 2010 Soccer World Cup has accelerated South Africa’s need to improve its public transport system which has led a team of students from the University of Cape Town to design a computer system to revolutionise the lives of commuters.

Every year the Department of Information Systems (IS) at the University of Cape Town hosts an Expo to showcase computer applications developed by senior students and also give angel investors and venture capitalists the chance to discover innovative new entrepreneurs. This year’s Expo on Thursday 29 October will showcase a range of dynamic new systems designed to address business problems. The Expo in the Jameson Memorial Hall will be open to prospective IS students from 11h00 until 13h00 and open to the IT Industry and general public from 13h00 to 15h00.

Head of IS, Professor Jean-Paul van Belle, said: “The Expo showcases Cape talent and potential as it gives the industry a unique opportunity to harvest ideas and meet graduates who are at the cutting edge of addressing real-world business problems.”

These innovative systems address problems in society and form an integral part of third year and fourth year IS courses. The aim is to expose students to the rigours of development, as well as project management and life skills needed to meet deadlines while delivering a quality product.

One of the most impressive projects is the Starfish system, a transport payment system similar in concept to the Oyster travel card used to access trains and buses in London as well as the Octopus system used in Hong Kong. The Starfish concept is unique for South Africa and has the potential to revolutionise the lives of commuters by reducing the time spent in queues, as well as making the public transport system safer and more efficient. (Why Starfish? Because there are five members in the team: Jerome Gristwood, Amber Osborn, David New, Kyle Martin and Ryan Gordon.)

According to the team’s lead programmer, Amber Osborn: “The South African public transport system is unreliable and inefficient. South African transport payment systems are unstructured resulting in potential for corruption. In addition, trains and buses often require exact change to be paid, which leads to frustration to commuters. Carrying cash or anonymous tickets may incentivise crime. The 2010 Soccer World Cup has instigated and accelerated South Africa’s need to improve on the current public transport systems, particularly in large cities.”

Although it is unlikely that the Starfish system will be operational before the 2010 World Cup, its potential to change the lives of local commuters will be of lasting benefit.

The Starfish system is a public transport ticketing and revenue system which makes use of cards which are loaded upfront with cash and can be touched with Near Field Communication (NFC) at a turnstile, where the exact fare would be automatically deducted. As there would be photographic ID on the cards, crime would be reduced, as a stolen card would not be very useful to a thief. The potential for recouping the money on a stolen card has also been built into the system.

The Starfish system is designed to assist both commuters and transport operators to be more efficient. Commuters will be able to get more value for money, with more accurate assessment of their journey by implementing zoned systems across all forms of public transport, as GPS will be used to determine and calculate accurate pricing. Operators are also given the opportunity to create special packages.

Commuters will be able to use a single Starfish card to pay for multiple forms of transport, for example buses and trains, as well as taxis.

Crime may be reduced as commuters will not need to carry physical cash. Commuters will also be able to manage their cards and accounts on-line, as well as access tailored reports and their personal travel records,
The Starfish system is only one of the student projects on show and the staff and students of the Information Systems Department at UCT invite you to visit the Expo at the Jameson Hall on upper campus, on Thursday, 29 October 2009. For more information of this year and previous years’ Expos, please visit https://www.commerce.uct.ac.za/InformationSystems/expo2009