Category Archives: FastCompany Labs


Coming soon to cities: one transit app to rule them all

If someone living in Logan Square, the hip Chicago neighborhood in the northwest side of the city, wants to head out to the suburb of Naperville one day to pay a visit to her family without taking a car, she has a multi-step journey ahead of her. She could get on the Chicago L’s Blue Line, which would deposit her downtown, where she could either walk 15 minutes or catch a bus to Union Station. Or, if she felt like it, she could hop on Divvy, the city’s bike share system and ride all the way to the station. Still, she’d have to buy a separate ticket for the commuter rail line out to the suburbs.

It’s far from an impossible trip, but juggling multiple transit services requires paying for multiple passes and having a working understanding of the timing of everything: If this passenger wanted to time her L trip and bus transfer to put her at Union Station right when her train out to Naperville was getting ready to depart, she’d have to know exactly when to leave home in order to make that happen.

Cubic Transportation Systems, a company that’s working with the Chicago Transit Authority, as well as Transport for London and the Metropolitan Transit Authority of New York, has developed an app that would essentially do all that for her.

[Image: courtesy Cubic Transportation Systems]

On this new app, which will roll out in Chicago–as well as Boston, Los Angeles, and New York City–in the coming months, a user can access a mobile version of every local transit operator’s ticketing service. In Chicago, that might be Ventra–which works with the L and the city’s bus network–alongside Metra, the commuter rail operator. In New York, passengers could access digitized Metrocards, which pay for the subways and buses, as well as mobile commuter rail tickets, and Boston’s would work similarly. In Los Angeles, the city’s 26 different services are all supported.

Below the different mobile passes, a passenger could enter their location and see a snapshot of all the available transit options near to them. A down-to-the-second tracker will let her know when the next bus or subway will arrive at the nearest station, and Cubic is also integrating with local bikeshare systems to map nearby docking stations and how many bikes are available (soon, people will also be able to pay for bikeshare on the app).

App users can also add favorites, if they tend to use certain lines or transit systems more than others, says Robert Sprogis, Cubic’s global director of product for mobile.

The app, called Cubic Mobile for Travelers, encapsulates a lot of the energy around streamlining and re-prioritizing public or car-free transportation for users. Uber, for instance, recently announced that it will be displaying public-transit data on its app as well as integrating with some bikeshare options, and other apps, like Transit, which displays public-transportation departure times, also is beginning to incorporate bikeshare. However, Cubic takes it a step further by incorporating mobile payments and ticketing–often a sticking point in multi-modal journey planning.

[Image: courtesy Cubic Transportation Systems]

For local bus and subway systems, which often use swipe cards and turnstiles to collect payments, the Cubic app acts as something as a mobile ticketing kiosk. Users can either save their credit card info on the app or connect with existing mobile payment options like Apple Pay to purchase one-time transit passes or top up their multi-use passes. “If you drop down below a certain value on your card, you have the option to set up automatic payments to refill it,” Sprogis says.

How commuter rail tickets are managed on the app is slightly different. Often, rail services require that passengers purchase and display a visual ticket that conductors then check for on board. For that, app users can purchase a ticket in the app, which pops up as a full-screen image, whose background slowly and subtly shifts color. “The whole purpose of that is to eliminate fraud–it proves I haven’t just taken a screen grab of another ticket or photoshopped one,” Sprogis says.

The Chicago Ventra app, which Cubic also developed and launched in 2015 as something of a pilot for this new app, essentially does all of this already, and according to Mike Gwinn, CTA’s director of revenue and fare systems, has been very popular, but it will be replaced with the new Cubic platform in the coming months to offer more capabilities.

While Chicago has been an important testing ground for the technology, “this app is designed to have global capabilities,” Sprogis says. While it will look different in each region that incorporates it–the local transit authorities all give input on the specific designs of the app–it will essentially have the same function wherever it is deployed. That does not mean, however, that if you live in Los Angeles and travel to Chicago, you can use the same app for both cities–for now, Sprogis says, each city will have a unique apps that all must be downloaded separately

Because the app aggregates and streamlines payments for all transit taken along a single journey, there are obvious implications for fare adjustments according to income or other indicators. But Sprogis emphasizes that the respective transit authorities that Cubic is partnering with are the ones who ultimately decide if they will use the system to implement fare-capping or other equity measures.

Matt Cole, VP of Cubic Transportation Systems, is hopeful that they will, and he also has another overarching hope for the rollout of this new app: That it begins to shift urban dwellers away from private car dependency and back onto transit systems. “There’s just not enough space for everyone to travel in low-occupancy vehicles,” he says. By designing an app that takes the scramble of organizing different payment methods and the gamble of guessing bus and train arrival times out of the equation, he hopes that soon transit will feel as seamless as hopping in a car.

World Cup suffers massive ratings drop in the U.S.

Soccer might be the globe’s most popular sport–but not in America. To see proof of that you only need to look at the viewership numbers for the latest World Cup, which began a week ago and runs until mid-July in Russia. The 2018 FIFA World Cup has seen U.S. viewership plummet 44% compared to 2014’s audience, reports Bloomberg.

That’s not good news for Fox or NBCUniversal’s Telemundo, which hold the English- and Spanish-language viewing rights in America. Games on Fox are averaging 1.98 million views–compared to the 3.55 million average 2014’s games on ESPN carried. Telemundo’s games are averaging only 1.87 million viewers, which is down from the 3.3 million average games brought in on Univision four years ago. Both networks paid a combined $1.1 billion for the U.S. rights to the 2018 World Cup. As for why the numbers are so much lower, analysts speculate that the extreme time-zone difference with Russia and the fact that U.S. team failed to qualify for the 2018 tournament are two contributing factors.

Researchers say an earthquake emoji could save lives

Earthquake scientists are campaigning for an earthquake emoji because they believe it could help save lives during the violent natural disasters, reports Newsweek. Currently, there are emojis for other natural disasters including volcanoes, tsunamis, tornadoes, and cyclones. The scientists say that those universally recognizable emoji help save lives because people–no matter what their language–can recognize the glyphs. As Chris Rowan, a geologist at the Kent State University, told Newsweek: “If you have a symbol that everyone uses, then you can communicate that information in a timely manner.”

Of all natural disasters, earthquakes affect the most people each year. The death toll from earthquakes that occurred between 2010 and 2015 topped a quarter of a million people. The earthquake scientists are currently reaching out to designers to help with designing the earthquake emoji. Once they’ve found a suitable one, they will submit it to the Unicode Consortium.

Facebook will let group admins charge for membership

The social media giant has announced that it is piloting a subscription-based program that will allow group admins to charge users $4.99 to $29.99 per month for access to special sub-groups. The company says it’s doing this after feedback from some group admins that it takes them a lot of time and effort to maintain their groups:

Group admins build safe and supportive communities that people come back to every day. We know that admins invest their time and energy to maintain their groups, and some have told us that they would like tools to help them continue to invest in their community and offer more to members. Today, we’re piloting subscriptions with a small number of groups to continue to support group admins who lead these communities.

We hear from group admins that they’re looking for ways to help them earn money to deepen engagement with their members and continue to support their communities. Many admins do this today by creating an additional subscribers-only group that sits alongside their existing group, and rely on additional tools to track and collect payments. Subscription groups were created to make it easier for admins to provide these experiences with built-in tools, and to save them time so they can focus on offering members-only content.

Be aware that Facebook is only piloting this program with a small, select number of groups. Once they understand how group members feel about subscription fees, they’ll decide on whether to expand the program more widely.


The Recommender: What execs from Teen Vogue and YogaGlo are obsessing over

1. BKR Water Bottle

From $42,

“I’ve had a lot of water bottles and this one is by far my favorite. Not only because it’s glass (which helps the water keep a clean taste) but because of the top handle, which makes it super easy to hold on a hike and carry around during the day.” Eleanor Haycock, founder, Year of Ours

2. Molekule Air Purifier


“We were recently inspired to re­­search and invest in a new air purifier. This one by Molekule is quiet, energy-efficient, and can be controlled via an app. It also looks cool.” Derik Mills, founder and CEO, YogaGlo

3. Chen and Kai Folded vessel

From $150,

“If you, like me, are still in love with print magazines and books, this cleverly designed shelf will help you show off your reading list in exquisite fashion.” —Phillip Picardi, chief content officer, Teen Vogue and Them

4. Original Grain Brewmaster watch


“This watch is a great conversation starter. The wood is made from 100-year-old German beer barrels, so not only does the piece tell time, it tells a story.” Bryce Goldman, cofounder and CEO, Kopari Beauty

5. Soft Swerve ice cream

From $5,

“At the Soft Swerve on Allen Street on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, I go for the matcha green tea ice cream and other rare flavors.” Zack Moscot, chief design officer, Moscot

6. Sudan archives ep

$15 (vinyl),

“If you haven’t listened to 23-year-old violinist and singer Sudan Archives, then stop right now and turn her on. I stumbled onto her work when she opened for Kelela at a SXSW party. I haven’t stopped listening since.” Zach Stafford, editor-in-chief, Into

7. Planoly instagram planner

From $7/month,

“Planoly allows me to play with the style, look, and accessibility of my Instagram posts, showing me how planned photo tiles will look when someone visits my profile page. It also helps me auto-post at scheduled times.” Brittany Packnett, creator, Love + Power; contributor, Pod Save the People

Here are the tech companies condemning Trump’s child separation policy

Leaders and executives from some of the biggest tech companies in the world are stepping up to publicly condemn Trump’s child separation policy. Here’s whose spoken out so far:

Google–CEO Sundar Pichai

Reddit–cofounder Alexis Ohanian

Apple–CEO Tim Cook

Cook told the Irish Times: “It’s heartbreaking to see the images and hear the sounds of the kids. Kids are the most vulnerable people in any society. I think that what’s happening is inhumane, it needs to stop.”

Facebook–CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Uber–CEO Dara Khosrowshahi

Microsoft–CEO Satya Nadella

Writing on LinkedIn: “I consider myself a product of two amazing and uniquely American things–American technology reaching me where I was growing up that allowed me to dream the dream and an enlightened immigration policy that then allowed me to live that dream. My story would not have been possible anywhere else. This new policy implemented on the border is simply cruel and abusive, and we are standing for change.”

eBay–CEO Devin Wenig

Airbnb–CEO Brian Chesky

Box–CEO Aaron Levie

SalesForce–CEO Marc Benioff

Lyft–cofounders Logan Green and John Zimmer

Twitter–CEO Jack Dorsey

YouTube–CEO Susan Wojcicki

Cisco–CEO Chuck Robbins

The more Elon Musk tweets, the more followers he loses

That’s according to car news site Autowise, which has followed up their SpaceX Tesla retro video game with an analysis of Elon Musk’s tweets over the last year. Their analysis shows that the more Musk tweets, especially recently, the more followers he loses–or he gains fewer followers than normal. This makes some sense in that some of Musks recent tweets have been more erratic and confrontational.

Autowise’s analysis also shows that Musk’s busiest tweeting periods are Friday at the end of the workday and on Sunday evenings. Further, the 10 most frequent words found in Musk’s tweets were:

  1. Tesla
  2. falcon
  3. rocket
  4. cars
  5. SpaceX
  6. landing
  7. autopilot
  8. maybe
  9. production
  10. actually

6 things to know about Juneteenth and why it matters more than ever

Today is Juneteenth, also known as Juneteenth Independence Day or Freedom Day, which commemorates the emancipation from slavery in the United States. In honor of the day, and the critical turning point it represents, we rounded up six facts:

  • As historian Henry Louis Gates explains in this post, Juneteenth (a portmanteau of sorts of June and 19th) marks the day in 1865 when the Union Army’s Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger landed in Galveston, Texas, and declared that all slaves were now free.
  • This event happened two years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, but Lincoln’s freeing of the slaves was only on paper, and the ongoing Civil War prevented freedom from becoming a reality as many plantation owners withheld the news.
  • Juneteenth marked a turning point in the fight to free fellow humans from the bonds of slavery, and African Americans in Texas celebrated it as a day of freedom. There were other options for an official holiday marking the end of slavery, including September 22, which was the day in 1862 when Lincoln issued his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation Order on January 31, the date the 13th Amendment passed Congress in 1865 and officially abolished the institution of slavery. However, it was Juneteenth that stuck.
  • In 1979 Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday. Now the day more widely represents the emancipation of enslaved African-Americans.
  • While it’s not an official national holiday, Juneteenth is now a state holiday or a day of observance in most states and the District of Columbia, with only Hawaii, Montana, New Hampshire, and the Dakotas holding out. For those that do celebrate, parades will take place around the country, including in New York, Texas, and Philadelphia, and communities across the country will host barbecues and picnics to celebrate the historic event.
  • This year, many are also calling for a day of action as a reminder that the struggle for equality and racial justice is far from over.

For more ideas on how to celebrate freedom, head here.

The Trump administration promised Apple it would not place tariffs on iPhones

Administration officials have promised Apple CEO Tim Cook that import tariffs would not be placed on iPhones made in China, reports the New York Times. The reassurance from the White House comes at a time when the administration has already placed tariffs on $50 billion worth of imports from China and is threatening to hit the country with another $200 billion worth of tariffs.

The likelihood of a retaliation from China and a brutal new trade war has business leaders all over the world terrified–especially ones like Cook who depend on China to manufacture a majority of their companies’ goods. The Times says that for Apple, it is worried that the Chinese government could retaliate against American companies by causing delays in its supply chain and increase scrutiny over its devices under the guise of national security concerns.

McDonald’s will test plastic straw alternatives in the U.S.

The news comes after the company announced it would adopt paper straws at all of its U.K. locations this year, reports USA Today. It’s not known at this time what material McDonald’s will use for its alternate straws in America, but paper seems to be the option of choice for food chains ready to ditch plastic straws. Plastic straws have come under fire from environmental activists because of their single-use nature and the fact that they don’t easily biodegrade. Worldwide attention to plastic straw use and alternatives picked up after a video of a sea turtle with a straw up its nose went viral last year.