New Mobile App Tells Users When to Cross the Border

The developers of this new app aim to generate a database of accurate wait times for cars at both the Mexican and Canadian borders. A crowdsourcing feature called iReport in the application collects time estimates from actual commuters, but only when they are in close physical proximity to a port. The developers compared their “crowdsourced” information with the wait times provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and integrated the two sets of data to improve the accuracy of both.

“We get information from Customs and Border Protection and then we get the times from the users,” graduate student Tarfah Alrashed, one of the three developers, said. “Usually, the information we get from Customs and Border Protections is not that accurate, [so] we tried to implement something to improve the time information we get from [them].”

Implementing the iReport feature, which broadcasts user-generated data in almost real time, has proven to be successful. However, because this feature relies on users disclosing their actual wait times when crossing the border, user participation is crucial.

“The users are really participating,” Alrashed said. ”We weren’t really sure that they could really give us the times that they really had to wait for. But they did, and it’s really amazing.”

The new iPhone app builds on an older service also called “Best Time to Cross the Border,” which was launched both online and as an Android app last April. Along with the traffic monitoring features of the original service, the new iPhone app incorporates not only current user-generated data but also historical graphs. The graphs reveal trends and average wait times from the past three months. The Android app is now compatible with the iReport feature, and in the near future, so will an application that is in the works for the mobile web.

The application has received 20 ratings on iTunes, all of which are five stars out of five. Some online customer reviews for the app read, “This app saves me a lot of time when crossing the border!” and “Super App!!!” Computer science and engineering undergraduates Matthew Davis and Rodrigo Rollo helped Alrashed develop the iPhone application. “We worked really hard over the summer, and we were able to finish it within three months,” Alrashed said.

According to Alrashed, the initial idea for the app came from the personal experiences of the team’s project manager and California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) Principal Development Engineer Ganz Chockalingam. A trip to Mexico and a run in with heavy traffic at the border prompted him to look for a solution to the problem.

“I’m hoping that a lot of people will use it, because I think a lot of people, especially here in San Diego where the border with Mexico is, really need something like this,” Alrashed said.