A consistent theme of the virtual Bus Technology Summit is the lightning-fast progression of technology and where it is headed. Student transporters can easily get caught up in daily operations, especially in a year like this one, and forget to how far society and the industry has come in terms of advancements.
Scott Hays, president of technology provider REI, reminded attendees of this during his Tech Talk on Wednesday, day three of the online event. He explained that in the 1970s and 1980s, safety lighting consisting of amber warning lamps and flashing red lights on school bus stop-arms was evolving. In 1986, New York state became the first to require seatbelts on school buses. That same year, school bus drivers nationwide were required to obtain commercial driver licenses. All of these events have contributed to increased overall safety.
When the 2000s hit, more technology was introduced, from seamless window shields to larger glass at the entrance door to improve loading zone visibility. During the past decade, Hayes said, electronics have taken on greater importance in school bus safety.
He noted that the development of high-definition cameras and back-up vision systems have assisted school bus drivers with vehicle maneuvering by removing blind spots. Electronic stability control and automatic emergency braking systems are also becoming prevalent.
As a result, Hays said the rates of student injuries and fatalities have decreased. But, he reminded, there remains much room for improvement. Two of the biggest technological game-changers to help the industry achieve this are vehicle sensors and artificial intelligence (AI).
Hays said while there are many different types of sensors that capture data from the world around it, cameras, radar, and lidar are the three being adopted into vehicle systems. He broke down each of the systems and discussed their purposes, benefits and limitations.
Hays said REI believes in adopting the most appropriate sensors for a customer’s specific needs, while also envisioning a fusion of all three. He explained that using a combination of multiple sensors will eliminate the weakness of a single sensor type and will prove to be the best practice going forward.
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But having the sensors is only half the battle. Student transporters should also decipher and use the data. AI drives the computer processes that have traditionally required human intelligence, Hays explained. He said this means that the system creates algorithms to classify, analyze and draw predictions from data. The system acts on data, learns from new data and improves over time.
Hays outlined various school bus technology that utilizes a combination of sensors and AI technology.
- 360-degree camera systems with integrated danger zone monitoring
- Passenger counting and seat availability
- Dangerous objects and weapon detection on students
- Pre- and post-trip inspections
- Automated child left behind warnings
- Surrounding vehicle classifications
These technologies, Hayes said, helps to make the school bus, students and drivers safer as well as surrounding vehicles and pedestrians. He said REI is working with school bus manufacturers to integrate these solutions.
Meanwhile, Hays said there are products currently available to retrofit on existing school buses to help improve safety. Two of these technologies include the 360-degree cameras and front windshield driver assistance safety system (ADAS) cameras. Front windshield cameras warn drivers of a potential collision and assist with that automatic braking to avoid a crash. Hayes said REI partnered with Mobileye Fleet Solutions to make this technology available.
On the other hand, 360-degree cameras systems consist of four wide-angle cameras that are mounted on the front, back, and left and right sides of a school bus. Captured images are stitched together to create a birds-eye view around the exterior of the danger zone of the school bus, with no blind spots, Hays said.
When selecting a 360-degree camera company, Hays advised attendees to pay attention to the features and images of the sensors and to pick a sensor that will meet the district’s needs, especially one that is designed to handle the length of a school bus.
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Concluding his Tech Talk, Hays discussed stop-arm cameras, as they are currently being used in 22 states to ticket drivers who illegally pass a stopped school bus. This technology solution can either by self-funded, meaning the school district is in charge of managing the program or turnkey managed, with a third-party vendor covering the hardware and installation costs as well as software, ticketing and court management.
Hays said that each program, each solution has pros and cons. But regardless of which decision a school district makes, existing data show they will see a reduction in stop-arm violations.