The Global Innovation Series is supported by BMW i, a new concept dedicated to providing mobility solutions for the urban environment. It delivers more than purpose-built electric vehicles — it delivers smart mobility services. Visit bmw-i.com or follow @BMWi on Twitter.

GetTaxiIf modern technology is a universal language, the world is getting schooled in innovation, especially in the public transportation sector.

The global transportation industry has become a testing ground for new payment systems, as cutting-edge technologies have been introduced to taxis, buses and trains worldwide to streamline your jaunts around town. From reserving and paying for a cab with an app to purchasing train tickets via an iPod, various countries are experimenting with new ways to reach out to travelers and make payment and transport a whole lot easier.


Get Taxi


Israel is already making an impact on the mobile payment industry with an app called Get Taxi, which coordinates cab pickups and payments. Without making a phone call, Get Taxi — which is available for Android, BlackBerryand iPhone devices — allows consumers to get a taxi at the click of a button in less than 30 seconds, as though it were an OpenTable reservation.

Once ordered, users can watch and track the reserved taxi on a smartphone’s map as it comes to pick them up — Get Taxi estimates the time of arrival and displays motion in real time. Much like airline travel, passengers can collect miles for free rides or prizes, and payment can be streamlined by saving your credit card information in the app.

The app has been hailed by Time Out Tel Aviv as app of the year, and the host of popular show Big Brother, Israel Assi Azar, tweeted on Friday that after several failed attempts to hail a taxi, he ordered one through the app that showed up just minutes later.

“We’ve had hundreds of thousands of downloads since the app launched, and the news of the service has gone viral,” says Nimrod May, vice president of offline marketing and strategic partnerships for Get Taxi. “Since you get the driver’s contact information ahead of time, parents feel safe sending their kids in Get Taxi cabs, and passengers also feel less frustrated when waiting for it to arrive since they can see where exactly the taxi is headed from.”

Get Taxi’s innovative concept also benefits the driver, bypassing the need for a dispatcher and welcoming cash, credit cards and business accounts for payment. Drivers are also assigned pick-ups close to their last drop location, so they don’t have to waste time or gas getting to their next location. A five-inch device — which is free for drivers and resembles a GPS system — can be installed in taxis to keep track of the latest reservation requests.

“A main component of the success is that the app is simple, it allows users to get full control over something they didn’t have control over before, and that the experience is optimized and seamless,” May says. “We couldn’t be happier with the results so far.”

Founded in 2010, Get Taxi seeks to reinvent the taxi market in Europe, which is valued at about $22 billion, according to the company. In addition to having a presence in Israel, the app is also available in London. Get Taxi plans to roll out the app in Moscow in March and then has its sights set on Paris, Spain, South Africa and eventually the U.S.

To spread more global awareness, Get Taxi is launching a Guinness Book of World Records initiative called “It’s on the Meter,” which will follow a taxi as it travels three continents, 39 countries, 10 time zones and more than 31,000 miles. Right now, the taxi is in San Francisco and will be headed to New York before it takes a ferry to Europe, Russia and then Sydney, Australia.

“We have already tremendously and positively disrupted an industry that wasn’t being tapped with cutting-edge technology,” May tells Mashable. “We think in the next five years that businesses will either have to keep up with the innovation or cease to exist.”


VeriFone Payment Terminals


VeriFone

In addition to being an early adopter to the GetTaxi app, London is no stranger to being at the forefront of other emerging technologies. In fact, taxi drivers in London were incentivized last year with nearly $5,000 to trade in their old models for newer vehicles that are more eco-friendly and boast state-of-the-art technology, such as back-seat TV sets and mobile payment machines powered by San Jose-based VeriFone that let you swipe or tap credit cards.

VeriFone is one of the most innovative mobile payment providers currently testing the waters with new technologies worldwide. Beyond its experimentation in London, the company recently deployed validator technology on bus systems in Turkey, allowing travelers to tap a pre-paid contractless card, issued by the country’s transportation authority to make jumping on board buses easier and more efficient. VeriFone is also using GPS-tracking on buses, so people waiting at a bus stop know in real-time how soon a bus will arrive.

“The buses in Turkey are equipped with GPS tracking and are constantly reporting their location to Verifone’s system in the cloud,” says VeriFone’s senior vice president of marketing, Paul Rasori. “VeriFone then sends messaging to signage at various bus stops to inform travelers that their ride is only four minutes or so away.”


High-Tech Subway Payment


Taxis and buses aren’t the only modes of transportation getting a taste of new tech. Austrian railway WESTbahn recently rolled out new payment technology onboard its trains with the help of the Apple products and mobile technology provided by VeriFone.

“There is a general trend in mobility with companies taking advantage of consumer mobile devices, such as iPhones, iPads and iPods,” Rasori says. “Customer service representatives on WESTbahn trains carry iPods that fit into a cradle to enable easy payments. It takes the customer service windows away, and it also allows people with near field communication-enabled (NFC) mobile phones to tap their devices to make a payment.”

Wireless carrier China Telecom Beijing Limited Company is also testing a new way to pay for its bus and subway systems with its “e-Surfing Traffic Card” program. The service incorporates a radio frequency user identifier module (UIM) card that integrates with China Telecom’s 3G mobile network and Beijing’s transport cards. To pay for a ride, users just need to swipe their mobile phones at designated spots. It can also be used to pay for products at participating merchants.

“Mobile payments technology has made advancements in the past few years across the globe, and it’s only expected to grow,” Rasori says. “What’s happening overseas will eventually come to the U.S. and in some cases, it’s already started.”

Rasori notes that just five years ago, New York City taxi cabs were cash only. Now with the incorporation of credit card systems attached to TV systems, 60% of fares are now electronic, and there could be more innovation on the way.

“In the future, you will even be able to buy lottery tickets from the back seat of a taxi,” Rasori says. “The capability exists and so does consumer interest, so it’s only a matter of time before we see more innovative technology in the public transportation industry.”


Series Supported by BMW i


 

The Global Innovation Series is supported by BMW i, a new concept dedicated to providing mobility solutions for the urban environment. It delivers more than purpose-built electric vehicles; it delivers smart mobility services within and beyond the car. Visit bmw-i.com or follow @BMWi on Twitter.

Are you an innovative entrepreneur? Submit your pitch to BMW i Ventures, a mobility and tech venture capital company.

More About: features, Global Innovation Series, mashable, Mobile, mobile payments

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The Global Innovation Series is supported by BMW i, a new concept dedicated to providing mobility solutions for the urban environment. It delivers more than purpose-built electric vehicles — it delivers smart mobility services. Visit bmw-i.com or follow @BMWi on Twitter.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is looking to transform the way they develop applications that serve wide and diverse audiences. They are currently running Apps for the Environment, an app development challenge — with a deadline of September 16 — that is meant to encourage the public to come up with new ways of leveraging EPA data.

“The premise for a long, long time has been that the government knows what is best for folks,” says Robin Gonzalez, acting director of the Office of Information Analysis and Access within the Office of Environmental Information. “We collect data from the people we regularly work with — industry — and others and try to put it into digestible formats which usually come out as sets of reports or raw data sets. The EPA has a number of large databases, such as Envirofacts, and is looking forward to “seeing what kind of apps students and developers come up with using our data.”


The Challenge


Gonzalez says this challenge presents a different way for a government agency to operate. It lets the market dictate how years of valuable EPA data can be put to good use.

The Apps for the Environment challenge welcomes individuals, independent programmers and corporate programmers to participate in developing apps for consumers, business-to-business and even government-to-business scenarios (or vice versa). The three categories for entries are Professional, Student and People’s Choice, with one winner to be chosen in each category.

The apps submitted must address one of the Seven Priorities from EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, such as taking action on climate change or building strong state and tribal partnerships. The apps should also be useful to individuals or the community at large. Developers can get ideas from webinars available on the site, which consist of audio interviews, slideshows and transcripts.

Even non-programmers can contribute to the challenge by submitting ideas for potential apps. The EPA’s challenge currently has 90 app ideas on their site, including:

  • An app that would identify nearby recycling centers for disposing household hazardous waste
  • An app that combines air toxics data from the EPA’s National Air Toxic Assessment (NATA) database with environmental public health data from the Centers for Disease Control and National Environmental Public Health Tracking Program to identify areas with high emissions that also have high incidences of disease
  • An app that identifies all available beach advisories and/or closings near a user’s current location
  • An app that allows users to compare the environmental impact of two products, such as grocery and household products

Developers are encouraged to either submit apps based on their own ideas or peruse dozens of app ideas from others. There is even a Hack-a-thon taking place on Labor Day weekend and hosted by American University that aims to bring together developers and teams from universities throughout the area, professional coders, as well as EPA data specialists. The goal will be to develop apps for the competition.


App Contests Are Going Mainstream


While app challenges aren’t new (take NYC Big Apps, the Civic Apps Challenge in Portland, Oregon and even a DC apps challenge called Apps for Democracy), what makes the EPA Apps for the Environment challenge different is that it is national in scope. The EPA challenge also encourages the use of not just EPA data sets but data from other agencies as well.

The EPA announced Apps for the Environment in June 2011 on the heels of another national app competition supported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) called myHealthyPeople Challenge — a part of the Health 2.0 Developers Challenge for rapid app development. The goal of the HHS apps challenge was to develop a custom Healthy People 2020 app for professionals, advocates, funders and decision makers who are using the Healthy People initiative to improve the well-being of people across the country. Challenge winners were invited to meet with HHS leadership to demo their apps and to strategize additional development opportunities. The Healthy Communities Institute won the first place prize of $2,500 for its online dashboard that checks the status of all the HealthyPeople 2020 goals in Sonoma County to assess and improve local community health.


The Reward


On November 8, the EPA will present awards to the Apps for the Environment challenge winners in a high-profile event in Northern Virginia. At the same event, the Department of Energy (DOE) will announce details about their upcoming apps challenge. As federal agencies pass the apps challenge baton, they can learn from their predecessors and their own experiences in accelerating the development cycle through crowdsourcing. Additional federal agency apps challenges can be found on Challenge.gov.

Gonzalez acknowledges that apps challenges are a form of crowdsourcing for app development, and while their current app challenge doesn’t include a monetary award, he says the EPA is exploring several models of payment for future app development initiatives.

“We’re looking to streamline the app development process, looking at this as a model that will inform that process going forward,” says Gonzalez. “We don’t expect to get everything for free, obviously, but at the same time we want to do this in a more innovative and more competitive way than exists today.”

Gonzalez says he has a team in place examining how their initial apps challenge effort can lead to future challenges and future app development work at the EPA. The goal is to look for different ways than the traditional model of determining the app they want produced, writing up specs, putting out an RFP, letting vendors bid on it and then picking a winner who then builds the app. By getting the public involved, new opportunities may arise that wouldn’t have come out of the usual RFP process.

Once the winning apps are chosen, the EPA will not own any of the apps. As long as the information retrieved from the EPA’s data sets is not misused in any way, the completed apps are property of the respective developers, who can then market and sell the apps themselves. The challenge winners will be invited to present their apps at the November awards ceremony to an audience that will include representatives from the EPA and other federal agencies, the media and even venture capitalists.

And more apps challenges are on the horizon for the EPA.

“What we currently develop is what we think is best for the public. Our thinking is changing,” says Gonzalez. “We believe that there’s a whole lot of innovative ways to approach development of our applications.”

Apps challenges are the EPA’s move in a more open and inclusive direction.


Series Supported by BMW i


The Global Innovation Series is supported by BMW i, a new concept dedicated to providing mobility solutions for the urban environment. It delivers more than purpose-built electric vehicles; it delivers smart mobility services within and beyond the car. Visit bmw-i.com or follow @BMWi on Twitter.

Are you an innovative entrepreneur? Submit your pitch to BMW i Ventures, a mobility and tech venture capital company.

More About: apps, data, Global Innovation Series, government

For more Dev & Design coverage: