TicketingHubPi

Raspberry Pi helps TicketingHub bring innovation to the tourism and attractions industry

By incorporating a Raspberry Pi into a custom designed case TicketingHub’s ScanHub device helps to minimise fraud and lost revenues for visitor attractions, festivals and live events. Thanks to its range of connectivity, processing power and ease of software development, Raspberry Pi was the obvious choice of single board computer for the project, avoiding the need for the company to develop their own embedded design and arrange manufacturing. The result is a low cost scanning device that exactly meets their customer requirements in a fraction of the time a custom design would take.

 

Customer

We have all probably bought tickets online for some attraction, event or festival. Nowadays, the number of outlets where we can buy tickets for a specific event by way of third-party distribution has grown too; be it online, at a Tourist Information Centre, or at a hotel reception desk. Also, no longer is the use of technology to facilitate ticketing just for large attractions and venues; guided tours and specialist events are now able to provide a range of ticketing services including printing vouchers for other events. One such company at the forefront of this change is London-based TicketingHub. Oliver Morgan, Chief Technology Officer, explains, ”As a business we provide technology services to visitor attractions and many tourism activities to allow them to sell visitor tickets through their web site, on the door, or through third party distribution channels.” TicketingHub has invested heavily in its online ticket sales portal. The site allows any size of attraction or event to set up an inventory of tickets in different categories, and provide a virtual box office capability.

 

Challenges

Being able to print tickets online, and often in the same way via third party distribution outlets, has meant that validation of plain paper tickets has become extremely important. Even with a barcoded ticket, a visual verification of the ticket is not enough, and once a flaw is realised by budget-conscious travellers, a simple photocopy can pass visual scrutiny again and again resulting in lost revenue for the attraction. Oliver explains, “What our customers were telling us was that while we had a very simple, cost-effective way of selling our tickets, we had to have an equally simple way of validating tickets. EPOS-style scanners can cost upward of £500 and were too expensive, so this got us thinking as to whether we could build our own simple scanning solution. However, as a very small company we didn’t have a lot of money to invest in such a project, nor did we want to embark on our own embedded design, sort out manufacturing and manage supply chains. Thankfully we had heard about Raspberry Pi!”

 

Solution

It didn’t take long for the TicketingHub team to appreciate how the use of a single board computer (SBC) like Raspberry Pi could relieve them of so much of the embedded design, manufacturing and test efforts. They scoped out the design requirements very quickly and realised that in addition to the Raspberry Pi they just needed an LCD screen, a couple of buttons and an enclosure to package everything together. The availability of USB ports made it extremely easy to attach off-the-shelf hand scanners for reading barcodes and a WiFi dongle in situations where wired Internet connectivity is not available. A couple of other SBCs were evaluated prior to the final selection of Raspberry Pi but none were found to offer the breadth of connectivity, processing power and ease of software development. The first prototype scanning hub was produced in a couple of weeks. As Oliver explains, “It is quite remarkable the speed with which we managed to make our first trial. High-level software development was done in a matter of weeks using a mixture of Python and JavaScript; it proved to be incredibly easy. Another reason for choosing Pi was the depth of its online community. Such resources are extremely helpful whether you are trying to solve a technical problem or looking for some programming tips. The only thing that we really needed to outsource was the design of a custom plastic enclosure that makes the solution look very neat and professional. My business partner soldered everything together and we were ready. Our decision to use Raspberry Pi has made everything possible. We didn’t need to contemplate the use of low-level languages and all the other time-consuming aspects of a traditional embedded development process.”

 

Result

The ScanHub product provides TicketingHub’s customers with a reliable, low-cost method of validating event tickets. The ScanHub can be used in a fixed installation or, with an optional battery back, used as a portable device that is ideal for festivals and other outdoor events. Usually barcode validation is made across the Internet to the TicketingHub database, but if that is not available the encryption employed in the barcode ID and the ScanHub’s own database of previously scanned tickets will ensure that accurate validation is achieved. Oliver is very pleased with the results. “We had 50 units made up initially and the customers love them. The key point is that we’ve made possible something they are not used to and it is a new phenomenon for the entire industry. What we’ve achieved with Raspberry Pi is something that wouldn’t have been possible 5 – 10 years ago. No company could have put together their own computer design in this way. We’ve not had to worry or get involved in any aspect of the computing hardware design; it has all been done for us.

Future

The ScanHub is now a fundamental part of TicketingHub’s solution offering. For now they are concentrating on growing their customers and service offerings both in the UK and overseas. Would they consider embarking on their own design again should the need arise? “Absolutely,” comments Oliver, “We’d not hesitate to use Raspberry Pi again. The ScanHub project was fun and demonstrated what any small business like us can achieve. The combination of hardware and software in this way is extremely powerful. We’ve adopted a “Lego” style approach using a pre-fabricated computer board and programmed software in the way we needed it. It proved to be a lot of fun too!”