Converging Technology Trends Drive Next-Gen School Buses

The technological advances in the last century have shaped the modern world. In the last 50 years alone, the level of achievement made by technology has been insurmountable compared to the millennia before. 

Computers that once filled an entire warehouse now can be worn on a person’s wrist or be injected directly into the body. The smartphone most people absentmindedly lug around in their pockets has more computing power than the operating system that took the astronauts to the moon. 

It’s called Moore’s Law, which was based off an observation made in 1965 by Gordon Moore, a co-founder of Intel. Moore saw that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit had doubled every each since the invention of the integrated circuit in the 1950s. 

Moore’s Law, simply put, states that the processor speeds—or overall processing power for computers—will double every two years. In other words, with each passing year, computers are only to get smaller and faster. 

This process allows for technology to be more accessible to the general population as prices drop, expanding its use into all aspects of life. As technology evolves and the uses grow, different systems have a tendency to join forces, so to speak. 

Defined as technological convergence, the idea is that as previous separate technologies will start to share resources and interact with each other synergistically. Technological convergence is essentially the attempt to combine a number of systems or programs into one user-friendly platform that performs as a one-stop shop for all required needs.  

Launi Schmutz-Harden, transportation administrator at Washington County School District in St. George, Utah, said any technology that can make the transportation of children easier and safer is “progressive in positive ways.” The downside, however, as she said, is that it’s “always a challenge with new technology” to be fully integrated.

Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems is already in the testing and evaluation phase with collision mitigation and other technologies for school bus applications, such as a lane departure warning and an intelligent parking brake. While the company wouldn’t go into specifics, Fred Andersky, director of government and industry affairs, said that while the school bus is among the safest forms of transportation, unfortunately “crash incidents do still occur.”

“For some crash scenarios, driver assistance technologies may provide a level of support to bus drivers to help them mitigate a particular situation,” he added. “Bendix continues to work with our school bus OEMs and industry groups to build awareness of these technologies, their performance and value, for state and school district customers.”

A wide range of other innovations has recently hit market, such as sensor detection systems for the “Danger Zone” and 360-view cameras. But Schmutz-Harden said that the student transportation industry has struggled to keep up with the newest trends, more often than not lagging a few years behind to incorporate the latest technological advances. There have been huge strides, nonetheless. When Schmutz-Harden first started in the school bus industry 30 years ago, she said that drivers barely had two-way radios to help with routing, often navigating with directions written on pieces of paper. 

“Now drivers have access to routing systems that use (real-time) GPS to get them where they need to go, which also provide connectivity for me to see their up-to-date locations,” Schmutz-Harden said. 

One example that can be found in the student transportation industry is the Zonar 2020 Android tablet that combines, among things, electronic vehicle inspections, hours-of-service logs and driving performance feedback, as well as real-time GPS navigation and two-way messaging. 

Or the Zonar Connect, a next-generation, always-connected tablet exhibited last month at the 2016 American Trucking Associations Management Conference and Exhibition in Las Vegas. The device runs custom applications for all types of fleets, including commercial trucking, vocational and passenger transportation.

Incorporating feedback from customers, industry research and best practices, the Zonar Connect can be customized with ZForms Messaging, which replaces paper forms with customizable electronic, automated forms; Electronic Verified Inspection Reporting to capture, transmit and record inspection data; and advanced navigation that provides drivers with GPS route information and an easy way to correct behaviors such as speeding and hard-braking.

Yet, there is a “fine line between helpful and hindrance,” Schmutz-Harden said, adding that possessing the newest equipment can sometimes be a distraction for school bus drivers, especially during loading and unloading, which is considered “most dangerous time” during a trip. 

She said she would like to see the technology transition to voice-activated routing systems that will verbally communicate directions to drivers. Without having to glance at a map, whether it’s electronic or physical, drivers can keep their attention on the road. “I’ve been pushing for technology like this for 10 years,” she added.     

As for the technology that has already been incorporated, Schmutz-Harden said that there is always a need “for well-rounded training” to keep drivers updated on the tools they have at their fingertips, because oftentimes, the technology is “not used to its full capabilities.” 

Yet, she added, this training needs to go beyond simply how to use it—bus drivers, transportation staff and technicians have to be trained in maintaining the technology so that it operates correctly and keeps operating for an extended period of time.       

Down the Road

The future of technological convergence, to use a well-worn phrase, is an open road. There are unlimited possibilities as to where synergy can go. But to get a glimpse at the technology that could potentially be integrated into the student transportation industry, one needs to look no further that to the systems unveiled at the 2016 ATA Management Conference and Exhibition. 

More often than not, the trucking industry is on the forefront of incorporating the latest technology to improve safety and operations for medium- and heavy-duty commercial vehicles. The student transportation industry then follows suit once the new systems are thoroughly tested and vetted, become commonplace in the market, and the benefits are evident.  

Lytx, a global driver risk management company headquartered in San Diego, showcased its newest DriveCam video telematics safety program that the company said would “streamline workflow, capture even more unsafe driving behaviors, and make fleet tracking easier for fleet managers on the go.” 

“We are constantly looking for new ways to make their tough jobs easier, and to make the time they have with their drivers more effective,” said Brandon Nixon, chairman and CEO of Lytx. 

DriveCam combines video capture of road incidents—like hard braking or sudden swerving as well as data analysis of those incidents—and personalized coaching insights to improve driving behavior. Video is captured by an event recorder mounted on the windscreen of the vehicle, which is packed with sensors that can detect more than 70 driving behaviors, from rapid acceleration to excessive speed. 

“We have deep partnerships with our clients, and they’re our best collaborators in the DriveCam program’s evolution,” Nixon added. 

Lytx also added new video capture triggers to identify and help extract even more risk from commercial and government fleets. Currently, Lytx helps protect more than 600,000 commercial and government fleet drivers under its DriveCam program.

The company also announced its new mobile fleet tracking solution at the ATA conference, which promises to allow fleet managers and business owners to track and manage vehicles from any mobile device in real time. These developments are in addition to the new video-without-limits Unisyn platform service updates.

Through a combination of hardware and wireless network technology, the Unisyn platform integrates and synchronizes high-definition video from as many cameras as users want, including cameras that can be positioned to capture images from the front, side or interior. 

The resulting video and corresponding telematics data can be accessed from the cloud in real time or on demand, from virtually any cloud-connected device including iOS and Android mobile devices.

“The Unisyn platform revolutionizes traditional video telematics in a number of ways,”  Nixon said. “It clears a path for all fleets, regardless of size and complexity, to put our world-class video capture to work protecting their businesses.”

Last modified onTuesday, 29 November 2016 16:38