Walking bus smartphone app wins £10,000 award

Friday 16 January 2015

A smartphone app, developed by academics at the University of Salford and Lancaster University, to help families make journeys to school more convenient has won an award and £10,000 prize from Research Councils UK.

Walking school buses, which consist of a group of children walking to school while being looked after by a number of adults, have become more common across the UK since being introduced in Hertfordshire in 1998.  The aim of the walking school bus is to reduce road congestion, encourage physical exercise, increase children’s road safety awareness and address the concerns of parents who are reluctant to let their children walk to school on their own.

To encourage families to use walking buses, psychologist Dr Sarah Norgate of the University of Salford and computer scientist Professor Nigel Davies from Lancaster University created a smartphone app for parents and school communities called ‘goWSB’. 

The app, to be released to the public in February 2015, allows registered parents to visually track the walking school bus on a map as it leaves its starting point, travels along its scheduled stops and reaches the school.  This allows parents to see their child’s movements in real time and ease any fears they may have for their child’s safety.

The academics worked closely with parents, walking school bus coordinators, head teachers, Transport for Greater Manchester, and local authorities in Greater Manchester to develop the project.  Funding for the research came was provided by the Digital Economy Programme of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Parents who engaged with trying out the mobility technology in Greater Manchester included St Hugh of Lincoln R.C. school in Trafford and Westwood Park school in Salford.

In December last year, goWSB won the Research Council UK Digital Economy ‘Telling Tales of Engagement’ competition and was awarded a £10,000 prize.  The prize money will be used to tell the story of how the goWSB app is making sustainable travel more convenient to families and schools.

Speaking after winning the Research Council Prize, Dr Sarah Norgate said: “We’re delighted that our walking bus app, goWSB, has been recognised in this way by Research Councils UK’s Digital Economy programme. 

“Everybody involved in goWSB can’t wait to launch the app and get schools and families using it. This app will help to make journeys to school far more convenient and the £10,000 prize we have won will enable us to engage even more schools and even more families.”

The development of goWSB comes as part of the wider Sixth Sense Transport project between the University of Salford, Lancaster University, University of Southampton, University of Edinburgh and Bournemouth University.  The Sixth Sense Transport project aims to develop apps that will encourage more sustainable travel options.