Company connects real-time MTA data to customized countdown clocks


There’s a new way to keep an eye on your train times before you leave the house, and it doesn’t involve an app.

NYC Train Sign, a Bushwick-based start-up, is bringing real-time subway data from the MTA into homes and businesses in the city with personalized countdown clocks.

Customers can choose their own platform that features train times in both directions, design their own text slide, add real-time weather updates and even feature a logo or picture, as first reported by Curbed NY.

Rohail Altaf, NYC Train Sign co-founder and chief technology officer, said the train time data comes directly from the MTA’s website.

“The MTA has a lot of data available publicly for people,” Altaf explained in a telephone interview with amNewYork on Tuesday. “Usually people use it for websites and apps. We wound up using it for a hardware product.”

The company is currently offering personalized countdown clocks for stops on the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, A, B, C, D, F, G, L, M, N, Q, R, W lines. 

The website boasts an array of models with stylish wood or metal cases, but all are sold out save for a 3D printed version that starts at $299 for one train stop, which Altaf said is the most popular. An additional train platform can be added for an extra $50.

The company expects to restock many of its sold-out models in time for the holiday season, according to Altaf, who said they’re working on recalibrating the 3D printers so they can restock faster.

“We’re making these signs as fast as we can sell them,” he added.

The company only just started selling their unique product directly to consumers in the last week, Altaf said, but the business was actually born out of “casual conversation” with creator Timothy Woo, who described the countdown clocks as a passion project at the time. 

Altaf, of Bushwick, said he met Woo while hanging around the neighborhood and the two bonded over their shared love of technology and gaming.

“Just being nerds in general and that’s how we got along,” he added. 

When Woo told him about his countdown clock project, bringing real-time subway data into the home using stylish hardware instead of software, like an app, Altaf said he saw the potential there.

“ ’What if we actually turned this into a real business with employees and an office?’ ” he said. Now, the start-up boasts nine employees with in-house social media, marketing and manufacturing out of an office in Bushwick.

Altaf said they followed an organic step-by-step process of bringing the once passion project to the public. “It takes a while to figure out how to do it…figuring out how to meet the demand from the public.”

Before they launched directly to consumers, the company offered to lease the clocks to businesses for $29 a month, which not only created consumer awareness of the product but also allowed the new company to receive feedback on how it could be improved. 

“By placing these in local businesses with a lot of foot traffic, they got to know that these things exist,” Altaf said.

The countdown clocks – which run anywhere between $159 for a mini 3D printed sign to $599 for a premium metal sign – operate on NYC Train Sign’s own application programming interface using Raspberry Pi technology (a small computer than can be used to learn programming) and an LED matrix.

Altaf said the cost of the clocks is partly because they’re made in-house rather than outsourced to a place where manufacturing would be cheaper. The company prides itself on promoting business within the Bushwick community, enlisting the help of 3D Brooklyn to create the frames.

“When you buy a train sign, you’re not only supporting the NYC Train Sign. You’re supporting Bushwick and Brooklyn,” the company’s website says.

Everyone in the company, for one reason or another, came to live in Bushwick, and that in turn is what brought them all together to work on NYC Train Signs, “which makes us want to support this neighborhood a lot,” Altaf added.

Creating the clocks in-house also allows the team to pursue their philanthropic goals. The company hopes to one day donate countdown clocks to city schools and help curate a curriculum to teach students how to make hardware products.

As the company continues to grow, they’ve also begun to branch out to other cities. NYC Train Sign recently began to sell a San Francisco BART countdown clock on its website.

“Just like that we’re going to keep adding more and more destinations,” Altaf said. “We’ve received inquiries from Paris…it’s something that is going to be expanded in the coming weeks, months, and years I supposed.” 

 

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