Biking To A Healthier MIT: Methodology

By Eric Lau, Iris Fung, Judy Chang, and Julia Appel

Biking to a Healthier MIT draws on ideas generated during the participatory data games and maps/creative maps sketch projects. We began using data from Hubway, which lists the starting point, terminus, and length of every Hubway ride between April 2011 and November 2013, and analyzed routes that are frequently traveled by people from the Hubway station at the corner of Mass. Ave and Amherst St., right in front of 77 Mass Ave. We chose that station to maximize relevancy to our intended audience: the MIT community.  We analyzed length of frequently traveled routes from that station, and chose one of the most frequently traveled routes in each direction: northwestern to Harvard Square, and southeastern to Boston Commons. As mentioned, we chose two routes that were similar in distance (each about 2 miles from the starting point), and had similar projected average travel times on public transportation (Google maps estimates 13 minutes on the number 1 bus to Harvard Square, and 16 minutes to Boston Commons using the number 1 bus and Green Line D extension from Hynes Convention Center). Out of 33,685 rides taken from the Hubway terminal in front of Mass Ave, 2,419 were taken to the 5 Hubway terminals in and around Harvard Square, and 969 to the four in and around Boston Commons.

Northern Route to Harvard Square. (Pins represent Hubway terminals.)

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Southern Route to Boston Commons. (Pins represent Hubway terminals.)

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The game is designed to promote physical activity, increase excitement for and awareness of MIT’s Hubway subsidy program, and encourage audience participation among people watching. A stationary Hubway bike – an actual Hubway bike on a stand we built –  is set up in the second floor lobby of 77 Mass Ave. A poster hanging on the wall behind the bike read: “Can You Beat the T? Hop On!”, and prompts the rider to begin pedaling to start the game. The user enters their email address, chooses either the Northern or Southern route, and beings pedaling. Then, a GoPro video begins playing with footage of a bike trip along the chosen route, and a map pops up on the side of the page showing the precise location of the biker. Faster pedaling corresponds to speeding up in the game: the video plays more quickly, and the icon on the map moves more quickly. If you complete the route, you win the game! The user has the actual experience of biking – they are pedaling the bike and the GoPro video shows an actual bike ride along the route they chose – and gets the physical benefits of spending 4-5 minutes doing vigorous physical activity. The rider then receives an email with information about their ride: its duration, distance, average speed, and calories burned.  

The game is also built to encourage audience interaction and participation: as the person is riding the stationary bike, facts about the benefits of Hubway pop up on the screen (i.e. it increases physical activity, and saves time and money).  (For a complete list of facts that show up during the game, click here.)  Also, a sign to cheer for the person on the bike appears on the screen; if the audience cheers loudly enough, then the rider receives a “turbo boost”, goes more quickly, and is more likely to finish and win the game.

We felt it was important to simulate reality as much as possible and create a truly immersive user experience. To that end, we use an actual Hubway bike and several data streams – GoPro footage from the selected ride, computer vision speed inputs, and audience noise levels. There are several feedback loops built into the game, from the speed of pedaling to the noise level of the audience affecting the speed of the video and what is shown on the screen. The game incorporates several components and frameworks, including d3.js, Popcorn.js, OpenCV, and PyAudio. The multiple levels of user-controlled feedback create a dynamic experience where everybody – from the rider to the audience members – join in a collaborative, interactive journey and living story of biking to a healthier MIT.

Here is a link to a slideshow (with lots of pictures!) that details our methodology, and includes video footage of the game being played.