Arlington, VA

A recently-released report recommends that Arlington County improve its delivery of real-time transit information.

The Department of Environmental Services’ Mobility Lab released a 245-page report calling for changes to the way the county shares real-time arrival information. Respondents to a survey said the information was valuable, but they wanted additional updates and more data.

“People are overwhelmingly turning to personal technology as a source of real-time information,” the report notes. “Google Maps, WMATA Trip Planner, and Twitter were all mentioned in the focus groups as useful websites.”

Researchers first convened 14 focus groups of up to 12 participants each to design the survey last July. Afterward, the survey was published online and 346 responses were collected between September and October.

A Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation grant funded the work.

The survey and the focus groups indicate that people in Arlington use information about the “cost, time, and convenience” of trips to choose which mode of travel to take.

Eighty-one percent of the people who responded to the survey said it was important that information be available in “real-time.” Seventy-three percent said having real-time information helped them “relax” when using public transportation.

Mobility Lab suggested several improvements to the county’s real-time systems based on the feedback, which Research Manager Dr. Lama Bou Mjahed summarized in a blog post:

  • Re-evaluate transit phone systems — go straight to the information avoiding lengthy automated messages
  • Implement highly customizable or on-demand text message updates avoiding texting “spam”
  • Modernize BusFinder — add features and information like routes and schedules
  • Continue providing real-time transit information through the county’s website and LED displays
  • Diversify the locations of dynamic message boards.

Currently, the county utilizes several real-time transit information systems: online and phone-based bus and rail predictions; the BusFinder at ART bus stops; and LED signs or LCD monitors at bus stops and rail stations.

But the Mobility Lab noted that, “there is limited research into how users perceive these technologies, how well it meets their needs, and how it affects their transit use.”

For example, a majority of survey respondents said that the phone system was “valuable,” but many said the service was “a hassle” and was used as “a last resort.”

Nine out of 10 respondents said the green “Bus Finder” boxes at bus stops were a good service, but some reported they were confusing to use or didn’t work.

“A recurring theme for all technologies stationed at the physical stop or station is that this information is provided too late in the travel process,” the study said. “By the time a rider has access to that information, they’ve already committed to taking that mode of transportation, and are essentially ‘stuck.'”

Users also reported some transit apps were confusing and offered too many options.

“The key takeaway was that respondents do not want yet another app on their phone that only provides a piece of the puzzle,” the Mobility Lab wrote. “Instead, they would like one single or centralized app that works to combine all available information in one place.”

Image via Mobility Lab

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

With nearly $20 million in recent growth, IT startup DivvyCloud based in the Courthouse neighborhood has announced plans for new tech and personnel growth.

The gist of DivvyCloud is pretty simple: scan for security holes in cloud data systems and close them.

The company recently announced that it had achieved $19 million in funding in a recent growth round, bringing the total capital raised to $29 million.

The press release said the new funding will allow the company to extend the policy enforcement capabilities of the software and allow the software to be more easily integrated into other third-party solutions.

“The added investment allows DivvyCloud to make specific technological advancements to its cloud security and compliance solution,” the company said in a press release, “as well as expand sales and marketing efforts and customer success programs to meet rapidly increasing demand.”

DivvyCloud was founded in 2013 as hybrid cloud concepts were coming to the market. Hybrid clouds are systems where some data would be hosted on a public platform while other data would be on a private cloud only accessible within the company. The hybrid system allows employees to access some company data without going through IT, but also opens the company up to more security holes.

DivvyCloud scans that barrier and helps to close unintended openings to the internal company cloud through the public platform.

It has been a year of growth for the company, which doubled its customer base — including new contracts with Kroger and Pizza Hut — and doubled its staffing over the last year, according to the press release.

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations

ChurnZero — a Crystal City-based company aimed to specifically combat customer attrition through better software management — recently scored $7 million in Series A funding.

The start up uses software to track how customers use a company’s product and the likelihood of subscribers to renew. The end goal is using this information to allow companies to personalize the customer experience and quickly fix issues that are leading to customer attrition.

In a press release, the company said they would invest in additional product development and more customer support staffing.

You Mon Tsang, co-founder and CEO of ChurnZero noted in the press release that:

Building a customer success platform that integrates data and customer touchpoints from a myriad of sources, generates insights and analytics, and kicks off workflows and communications is a tough technical project and is a proud achievement for our team. But our real achievement is creating a happy and successful customer base. Our growth has been testament to our efforts so far and I am thrilled to have Baird Capital as partners to invest further in the company and in the ecosystem.

The funding was led by Baird Capital, a venture capital investment group.

The new funding was more than triple what ChurnZero had raised since its founding in 2015, increasing the total funding from $3 to $10 million.

Image via Facebook

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations

Crystal City-based startup 4stay aims to help more students find affordable housing with ambitious plans to quintuple their current reach, thanks to some new funding.

On the heels of raising $1 million in angel investments, last week the state-funded nonprofit Center for Innovative Technology (CIT) announced that its CIT GAP Funds would be investing in 4stay, according to a press release. The size of the investment was not disclosed.

“As someone who has worked in student housing for almost 10 years and lived the pain of many housing challenges, we have seen firsthand the difficulties and frustrations of looking for housing on college campuses,” Akobir Azamovich, co-founder and CEO of 4stay, said in the press release. “4stay is solving these challenges by providing an online marketplace to book furnished rooms around campuses. We also provide $100K insurance, host pay guarantee, and zero deposit to protect students, parents, and hosts.”

The site’s functionality is similar to rental site Airbnb, with students searching for available off-campus housing based on a variety of factors like the number of roommates or length of stay. Types of homes range from apartments to basement rooms in someone’s house, but all locations are required to be fully furnished with students having a bedroom of their own.

“We are grateful for the support of CIT GAP Funds, whose investment will help us further the acceleration of our product development as well as help spread the word through increased marketing efforts,” said Faridun Nazarov, co-founder and COO.

The company currently partners with over 100 schools, but with the CIT investment announced plans to bring on an additional 500 schools over the next 12-18 months. Part of the expansion plans include opening up in new student housing markets in Canada and Europe.

Upcoming offerings planned for the site include features to match users with other residents and the ability to book with room providers like school dorms or student housing companies.

Photo via Facebook

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.comStartup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

(Updated 3 p.m.) Fend — a Ballston-based startup that adds a physical component to the data transfer process to reduce hack-ability — has won a key Department of Defense contract.

The company’s technology transmits information from a data-collecting source, like a piece of industrial equipment, in a unidirectional beam into the second piece of equipment that links with the cloud network. The physical barrier reduces the possibility of hacking through a network.

The startup won a $1.6 million contract to install devices at an Army Corps of Engineers facility starting in June as part of the Environmental Security Technology Certification Program.

According to the Department of Defense project description:

On-board processors enable Fend’s hardware to communicate with protected equipment using common protocols and transmit this information to an on-site network or cloud service. Fend’s [technology] would serve the unmet needs of critical infrastructure managers across [the Department of Defense] by quickly enabling secure access to equipment data.

Dunn said part of the new contract will be putting the project through the wringer to see if it can survive in the field.

“We tested program out in the field and it worked for extended periods of time,” said Colin Dunn, Fend’s founder. “Probably looking at several dozen [pieces]. We need other rigorous scientific tests to make sure the data going into the device is the data going out. There’s also performance tests and environmental tests — seeing if it works in hot and in cold.”

Dunn said the project has evolved some since the initial design, like streamlining the number of ports on the box and figuring out ways to make the product more cost effective and rugged.

“This opens up a lot of doors,” said Dunn, “not just for military, but opening to the commercial sector by showing that it’s good enough for the military.”

The new contract has allowed Fend to expand, with the company currently looking to hire a project manager, electrical engineer, a data scientist and a few people in sales.

Photo courtesy Fend

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

The new frontier of user interface isn’t a keyboard, controller or a touch screen — Ballston-based startup Modev says it’s your voice.

Modev aims to help developers understand voice controls and fully understand the potential and challenges of programming for voice controls.

The main venue for this education is a series of summits where programmers and experts talk about the latest developments.

Pete Erickson, founder of Modev, said one of the big challenges Modev works to solve is helping developers understand just how different developing for voice controls is.

“People are building for mobile, but how do you develop for voice?” Erickson asked. “When mobile came out, user experience was the big new profession. Now, it’s conversational designers. You can’t just slap a voice on the front end — you have to build that from the ground up.”

The current market is for functional home interfaces, where a monotone robot can change the channel or lower the temperature. But Erickson said the market is going to rapidly move towards increasingly realistic conversations.

“Voice is going to be all about customization,” Erickson said. “Just as with mobile apps, voice can measure preferences and habits and be used to synthesize custom voices.”

Erickson says a person using the voice activation for day-to-day home functions will need a different voice to interact with a 7 year-old or an elderly person with dementia.

Modev started ten years ago in a pizza shop in Rosslyn. Erickson had just gotten married and moved to D.C. after years of working in the Seattle technology industry and wanted to meet with other locals who worked in smartphone development. Within a year, the group had 1,000 members.

By then, Erickson started to brand the group as Modev — a portmanteau for mobile development. The group’s first development conference had 325 attendees, and Erickson decided to turn the group into his full-time business.

A decade later, the group has events across the country and in places like Hong Kong. Erickson said most of the money comes from sponsorship, which also gave them the connections to put together the first conference on developing voice controls for Amazon’s Alexa, Amazon’s virtual assistant.

Rather than hold one central conference, Erickson said the team spent three months of 2017 traveling to 10 cities to meet with developers and help them build for Alexa.

Modev hosts several events every year focused around different aspects of development, like the upcoming VOICE Summit on July 22 in Newark, New Jersey or the management-focused EXO Software Leadership summit on Sept. 15 in Aspen, Colorado.

There are nearly 400 proposals currently being sifted through for Modev’s big conference planned for the VOICE Summit. Founder Pete Erickson’s team is sorting through the projects currently and narrowing it down to 75-100 projects that will have a chance to give a demonstration. The conference last July was expected to have 1,500 attendees. Over 3,000 showed up.

But as they’ve been going through the projects, Erickson said he believes there’s potential to do something newer and bigger. Erickson likes the in-person conferences, but he also has first-hand knowledge of how valuable online conferencing can be.

There are nearly 20 people working at Modev, but the headquarters is just Erickson sitting at a desk in the Ballston Techspace coworking space. Erickson said most of the company is spread out across the country now, and they collaborate online. It’s an experience that Erickson says the company can use to change the way the conferences are held.

Rather than host an in-person conference with a limited number of attendees and performances, Erickson said work has already started for a conference on Feb. 20, 2020, that will live-stream worldwide with a broader selection of presentations.

Photo via Facebook

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Morning Notes

First Debate in Prosecutor Race — “In a contentious series of exchanges that marked their first debate, candidates for Arlington commonwealth’s attorney left no doubt they have decidedly different views on the role of prosecutor – and aren’t particularly fond of one another, either.” [InsideNova]

Road Closures Tonight in Crystal City — “The Crystal City 5K Fridays races will take place each Friday evening in April (5th, 12th, 19th, and 26th). The Arlington County Police Department will close the following roadways each race day from approximately 6:15 p.m. until 8:15 p.m. to accommodate these events…” [Arlington County]

Pentagon City Ritz Hosting Easter Event — “Based on the huge success we had in 2018 holiday season with Breakfast with Santa, we have decided to celebrate Easter with the Easter Bunny for our little ones.” [Ritz-Carlton]

School Board Challenger Announces Candidacy — “He aims to knock off incumbent School Board Chairman Reid Goldstein, but in a kickoff April 3, David Priddy avoided mentioning the incumbent by name and only tangentially touched on reasons he thinks Goldstein should be ousted.” [InsideNova]

County Starts Census Push — “In a packed room at Arlington Mill Community Center, County Manager Mark Schwartz launched Arlington’s Complete Count Committee — a group of 39 community members who will serve as Census ambassadors to ensure that every person in Arlington County is counted in the 2020 Census on April 1, 2020.” [Arlington County]

Arlington Tech Firm Acquired — “Tetra Tech, Inc. (NASDAQ: TTEK) announced today that it has acquired eGlobalTech, a high-end information technology (IT) solutions, cloud migration, cybersecurity, and management consulting firm based in Arlington, Virginia.” [BusinessWire]

Police Warn of Numerous Scams — Arlington County Police are warning members of the community about a number of scams that have recently been reported, among them the “Imminent Account” fraud, the “I am in Trouble” scam and the “Jury Duty” or “IRS” scam. [Arlington County]

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Hungry, a food delivery startup based in Rosslyn, announced today that it’s raised $8 million in funding from investors like Jay-Z’s investment group and singer/songwriter Usher.

In an announcement, Hungry listed a who’s who of backers for the company’s series A financing. Investors range from Alexandria-based Motley Fool Ventures to founders of Honest Tea and Founding Farmers. Among the investors was Marcy Venture Partners, a Jay-Z helmed venture fund.

“Hungry has built a brand that is defined by customer satisfaction,” Larry Marcus, Marcy Venture Partners co-founder and managing director, said in the press release. “The team has cracked the code on a user-friendly marketplace that combines skilled chefs with an easy-to-use digital ordering experience. We’re thrilled to be a part of the Hungry journey.”

The company puts together a rotating set of dining options for offices from a variety of hand-picked chefs. Once the meal is chosen, a delivery team brings the food there, sets up, and then packs up when the meal is done.

The central idea is that an office could order lunch for their staff every day for a month and never get the same food twice or have to worry about the logistics. The company currently operates throughout the D.C. region and recently expanded to Philadelphia.

The new funding is more than double what Hungry had previously raised, bringing the total amount of funding raised since its founding in 2016 to $12.5 million, according to the press release.

“We are very thankful to all of our investors and supporters,” said Eman Pahlevani, Hungry’s co- founder and COO. “This truly is an amazing syndicate of powerful investors and we are excited about having their support to propel Hungry’s growth across the country.”

Photo via Facebook

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.comStartup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Ballston-based tech startup Federated Wireless is taking advantage of new changes to the Federal Communications Commission’s rules to expand its business partnerships.

On March 12, Federated Wireless announced a new partnership with Cambium Networks, an Illinois-based internet provider, to use frequencies newly available for commercial wireless use.

Federated Wireless works on making new frequencies available for commercial use and ensuring that those frequencies do not interfere with other signals. This allows — for example — automatic cash registers to securely interface or factories to wirelessly link their information systems.

Federated Wireless offers its wireless access through the Citizens’ Broadband Radio Service initiative (CBRS), which makes a subset of the airwaves open for commercial use.

“While the traditional licensed spectrum approach has served the largest U.S. mobile operators well, it has also constrained network operators like [wireless providers] who operate smaller networks throughout the U.S.,” Scott Imhoff, vice president of product management and marketing at Cambium Networks, said in a press release. “CBRS changes everything — unlocking a large slice of spectrum for broader commercial use.”

Federated Wireless said the new partnership was made possible by a change in FCC regulations on Priority Access Licenses (PAL). In October, new rules opened up the available spectrum even further for commercial development. The new FCC regulations allow those who are holding PALs but aren’t using them to lease the spectrums to private enterprises.

Part of the change allows wireless internet service providers room to work together on certain frequencies and create a market where groups like Federated Wireless can go toe-to-toe with telecommunications giants by pooling their resources.

“The proposal also opens the opportunity for a fluid and vibrant secondary market for PALs, addressing the PAL needs for many enterprises,” Kurt Schaubach, chief technology officer for Federated Wireless, said in a blog post. “The PAL rules state that the licenses obtained within a county must be used or they will revert to [general] use. This actually encourages PAL holders who aren’t using their licenses to lease them to… other enterprises, giving these properties a competitive edge in the market.”

Photo courtesy Federated Wireless

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A new study indicates most Arlington Public Schools staff and students find personal electronic devices helpful in the classroom, but School Board members say questions remain about an initiative to give iPads and laptops to students.

Dr. Shaun B. Kellogg of the Friday Institute of NC State University, which conducted the “1:1 Digital Device Initiative Study,” said teachers and students surveyed were “generally pretty positive” about devices, but that “parents who completed the survey were clearly more skeptical of the benefits.”

“In fact the results from parents were kind of polarizing,” Kellogg said.

Eighty-five percent of teachers and 75 percent of students reported that the MacBook Air laptops and iPads used in APS classrooms can make learning more interesting — but only 55 percent of parents surveyed agreed.

Last year, the Friday Institute began studying the impact the devices had on students and teachers and presented these initial results based on analysis of the quantitative data gathered over the last year. Data was collected via interviews, 410 classroom observations, survey responses from 882 teachers, 8,519 students, and 1,693 parents, per Kellogg’s presentation last week.

Kellogg told the School Board that students are using devices roughly 40 percent of the time during classes in elementary schools, about 53 percent of the time in middle school classrooms, and 58 percent of the time in high school.

“I think in simple kind of parent speak we really want to know if what we’ve invested in is of benefit to their children,” said School Board member Nancy van Doren, who acknowledged that Kellogg was likely unable to answer that question during this first phase of his research.

Board Chair Reid Goldstein said the Board will revisit the issue in May.

Officials acknowledged during the meeting that the second phase of the study is not expected to be completed by May.

Goldstein said the study to examine the “the cost benefit analysis” of the program, but noted he had hoped the presentation included information on the “health effects” more screen time could have for youth.

Board member Barbara Kanninen also asked if there exists a consensus in the educational community about one-to-one device programs.

Kellogg held his own iPad aloft at the podium and replied, “They have ether potential to really amplify really good instruction, really good curriculum, but they also have the amplify really poor classroom management, really poor instruction.”

When pressed by Kanninen on whether APS has good quality instruction and curriculum Kellogg said, “I’d be very comfortable making that conclusion after phase two. That is one of my goals, figuring that out.”

Proponents of the program have said providing an iPad or laptop for every student from second grade on offers a chance to personalize their learning and address the achievement gap. But the program remains controversial with parents, some of whom were recently billed the costs for repairing devices after a policy change last year.

Board member Monique O’Grady also asked last week if it is common for school districts to have a device for every student.

Kellogg referenced his work in North Carolina where he answered that about 40 percent of their schools have “officially” adopted a similar policy but “realistically” only about 20 percent of them have achieved a one-to-one ratio.

In 2015, Kanninen attempted to pause and study the program, which had deployed 3,000 devices at the time. Her questions four years ago echoed last week’s: “Is it helping students learn? Is it helping teachers teach?”

The initiative began toting iPads and MacBook Air laptops into classrooms in the 2014-2015 school year with the goal of outfitting every student with a device by 2017.

The program initially drew criticism from parents who said APS introduced it in the budget with little public input and without sharing details about the plan with parents.

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Morning Notes

New APS Verification System — “For the 2019-20 school year, Arlington Public Schools will implement a new annual online verification process for updating and maintaining accurate student information. This will replace the First Day Packet students used to receive on the first day of school.” [Arlington Public Schools]

Garvey: Board Should Get Full-Time Pay — From Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey, who has previously spoken out about the issue: “To expect 5 Board members to hold outside jobs to supplement our $55k salary while maintaining Arlington’s presence in the region and the Board’s connection to the multitude of civic associations, commissions, and organizations we have is, I believe, unreasonable and not healthy for our County.” [Libby Garvey, Blue Virginia]

Border Wall May Cost Local Projects — Arlington may lose out on more than $50 million in military construction projects — including a road project and Pentagon exterior and security upgrades — if the money is diverted to President Trump’s southern border wall project. In all, nearly a half billion dollars worth of projects are at risk in Virginia. [WUSA 9]

Cyclist Struck in Shirlington — “ACFD on scene of a cyclist struck by a vehicle at the intersection of Shirlington Road at Arlington Mill, in Shirlington. Victim is being transported to a local hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, per scanner. Several lanes blocked.” [Twitter]

Wardian Does it Again — “Running from south to north, Michael Wardian of Arlington, Virginia has set an FKT on the 631-mile (1,009K) Israel National Trail of 10 days, 16 hours and 36 minutes (unofficially). That’s like running a 100K race every day for 10 days.” [Trail Running]

Ride Hailing Service for Kids Comes to Arlington — “A California transportation service is looking to make life easier for Greater Washington families — by driving their kids. Los Angeles-based HopSkipDrive Inc., whose service chauffeurs kids between school and other activities much like a family-friendly Uber or Lyft, is launching in the D.C. area, now live in Fairfax, Arlington and Alexandria.” [Washington Business Journal]

Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley

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