For the last few months I’ve been working with the guys at London Underground and Edenbrook. Having seen the impressive use they’ve made of Office 2003 and Sharepoint in particular, we started talking about the possibilities with the Office 2007 System and how we could work together to take their Network Management systems to the next level using new visualisation approaches and through the technology advances that Windows Presentation Foundation in .NET 3.0 brings. The London Underground had about 970 million passenger journeys last year and keeping most of those people moving to the right place at the right time is pretty challenging!
After a 2 day Architecture Design Session and 3 week Proof of Concept (4 developers, 2 part-time designers) in our Microsoft Technology Centre labs we emerged with a really compelling application which can take live and historical feeds from sensors placed all over the Underground Network and which are already exposed through a plethora of internal XML Web Services. The hard work was getting the services and data structured in the best way to make accessing the information as easy as possible via WPF’s in-built data-binding (and this took about 2 of the 3 weeks). As a separate stream, we had a couple of designers working on the layout and artefacts using Expression Design and Expression Blend, and those were integrated into the application in the last 2-3 days. Having the same project structures in Blend and Visual Studio really made the designer/developer relationship simple – if you haven’t checked out those tools yet I certainly recommend finding some time. In fact, why not take a look at a series of Channel9 videos which Martin Grayson, Nick Page and I put together to get you past the panic of the blank project in Blend?
The final application uses the familiar tub map images and also adds a geographically-accurate view and even a 3D perspective of the Underground system (3D was added in the last day!). Over the map we overlay real statistics such as crimes, engineering works, incidents, etc. And you can turn on/off layers easily, such as individual lines, stations and even the trains which are shown animating in their actual positions on the track network. All the data and application is real, so there are no ‘smoke and mirrors’!
The really good news is that the project is much more than a flashy graphics demonstration – we built it on a solid Service Oriented Architecture and a Framework which is their foundation for future development. We first showed the application at the Developer launch of Vista, so you can see it for yourself if you view or download the keynote. We ran a case study session on this project at the Architect Insight Conference so I'll try to publish the slides soon and hopefully a screencam of the app so you can see it all in higher resolution.