Northern Brooklyn

Transit race using mood-reading technology will help L-train commuters

‘Williamsburg Challenge’ — Can You Get There from Here?

June 14, 2018 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A race where participants are fitted with mood-reading biosensors will take place this Sunday to help commuters find the fastest alternate route during the upcoming L-train shutdown. AP file photo/John Minchillo
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A nonprofit group plans to use a device that can read the moods of commuters to help devise the fastest and safest way to travel between Manhattan and North Brooklyn after the L train shuts down for repairs.

The upcoming yearlong shutdown, slated to begin in April 2019, will snarl the commutes of roughly 225,000 riders who travel between Manhattan and North Brooklyn each weekday, and MTA is struggling to come up with adequate substitute transportation.

The nonprofit Van Alen Institute has devised a crowd-powered way to test and compare alternate routes. This Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m., 20 volunteers will be fitted with sophisticated data tracking devices and sent out to find the fastest way to travel from Union Square in Manhattan to Bar & Grill in Williamsburg. The only rule is they may not use the L train.

The Institute says it will be using Multimer biosensors to track participants’ time, mood, roadblocks and pace. Multimer’s MindRider system uses brain-tracking technology developed at MIT, NeuroSky and DuKode Studio to collect and analyze geolocated biological data.

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In past experiments carried out by Multimer, bicycle riders’ brain waves indicating stress or calm were related to nearby infrastructure, traffic and safety concerns. Deep concentration by a rider, (indicated by EEG values, which measure brainwaves) was found to be related to dangerous traffic spots, called “hotspots.” When EEG values indicated high relaxation, analysis found riders were close to traffic “sweetspots,” indicating perceived safe areas. Hotspots were found to have a higher likelihood of being within 100 feet of a location where a bike collision, sometimes with fatal results, took place in the past.

The Van Alen Institute dubbed the Sunday’s event the “Williamsburg Challenge.” At the final destination, Bar & Grill in Williamsburg, participants will meet to share data, travel stories and experiences. The first to arrive wins a surprise. The event is part of The Van Alen Spring Festival.

People wishing to participate should visit to register. The registration fee is $10 and includes all transit costs. (Participants are invited to choose between bus, bicycle or subway at time of registration.)

The upcoming L-train closure has been called a “scheduled natural disaster” by North Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce President and L-Train Coalition organizer Paul Samulsky. For more on the closure, visit our stories below and


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