HomeTechnologySTN EXPO INDY AI Session Advises Attendees to be Curious but Cautious

STN EXPO INDY AI Session Advises Attendees to be Curious but Cautious

INDIANAPOLIS – The buzzwords Artificial intelligence (AI) aren’t being fully accepted by the industry quite yet, at least according to a general session on the opening day of STN EXPO Indianapolis.

While the panelists on Friday discussed the benefits of where AI could be integrated into aspects of student transportation, the overwhelming consensus from them as well as the audience was that human interaction isn’t going away anytime soon, if at all.

Moderated by STN Editor-in-Chief Ryan Gray, the session discussed integrating AI-enabled software into routing, camera systems, fleet management, the buses themselves, and overall transportation operations. For instance, Katrina Falk, the director of transportation for Shelby Eastern Schools in Indiana, discussed her transition from paper route sheets to routing software. She shared that after an incident about 10 years ago, where the software promised to create the route itself but ended up allocating too many U-turns to drivers, she’s hesitant to go down that path again.

She referenced the recent experience in Jefferson County, Kentucky, which made national headlines at the start of this school year for AI-routing gone wrong. She noted that the system used didn’t understand the location of sidewalks, causing students to walk on the side of the roads, as well as traffic, to name a few inconsistencies.

Falk said AI is ever evolving, noting that Shelby Eastern is currently using predictive routing, not full AI systems. She said the software takes existing routes and shows ways to optimize them without creating the route itself. That, she said, still requires a human to verify its accuracy, which can only be done by driving it.

Herbert Byrd, the assistant director of transportation for Chesapeake Public Schools in Virginia, shared that he is interested in using AI for weapon detection on school buses. He said the technology is currently being piloted in Chesapeake’s school buildings.

Karl Hamman, the fleet director for Cook-Illinois Corporation in Illinois, said he sees AI taking off in terms of collecting and analyzing fleet data, but it’s his opinion that humans will always be needed to make the physical repairs and diagnose true failures.

As for training, Hamman noted that he sees AI leading technicians to the problem, not being used in the actual training of employees.

Byrd and Falk agreed that AI used for driver coaching is the present and future. Bryd said he currently uses the technology with camera systems that record when drivers make a hard stop or turn. The system generates reports, which can in turn be shared with the driver to make them safer.

Falk added that she doesn’t see her district ever replacing live driver training with a simulator, but the video coaching aspect is huge. She said at first, drivers were hesitant about onboard cameras because of the fear of “always being watched.” But now, she said cameras are more often exonerating drivers and showing everything that they are doing right on routes.

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Some audience members shared that they use AI, such as ChatGPT, to create job descriptions or to write emails to parents. Falk said using AI is a good starting point to creating drafts for training material, for example, but it should never replace a human reviewing and finalizing the content.

Byrd said Chesapeake uses ChatGPT to restructure interview questions. Meanwhile, Hamman said ChatGPT provides a good baseline of information, but especially in terms of maintenance, anything can change at any time.

Gray advised the audience to be wary of the information they input into AI-generative systems because it’s not secure. Once the information is entered, it becomes an open record.

Byrd added he would like to see AI systems inside buses that could remind a driver to activate their yellows. Perhaps when the driver reaches a railroad crossing, an audible alarm alerts the driver and re-focuses their attention to the task at hand.

Hamman said that transporting students is still about safety, and while technology can make things more efficient, it’s not a shortcut. He noted that the more technology on the bus, the more the drivers could rely on it.

Falk provided an example of a situation, in which a bus driver had to make an evasive maneuver to avoid a ladder in the highway. When the driver steered around the ladder, the bus collision mitigation system thought she was making an unsafe turn and brought the vehicle to a complete stop in the middle of the highway. The situation scared the driver, who Falk said refuses to drive that bus anymore.

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