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The Source for Public Transportation News and Analysis 02/11/2011
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Public Transit Operators Driver Cell Phone Detection Has Arrived
BY LEONARD BUKHIN, Program Manager, Los Angeles Metro, Los Angeles, CA
Los Angeles Metro is “putting the brakes on cell phone usage” for drivers operating public transportation vehicles. Federal and state requirements strictly prohibit using cell phones for calling and texting by operators of buses and trains. In an ever expanding effort to keep public transportation safe, LA Metro has teamed with Berkeley Varitronics Systems (BVS), Eastman Telebell International Inc (ETI), and Mobile Video Systems (MVS) to launch a unique system that reliably detects cell phone usage and provides instant video archiving upon detection.

The system is in the final stage of development and is currently being field-tested. The cell phone monitoring system detects if an operator is texting/calling within the driver seat area and instantly triggers a video recording of that zone. The integration that yields this solution involves three devices: a cell phone tracker device (CPT) developed by BVS called Wolf-Hound, and a CCTV Camera and SSD4 mobile video recorder developed by MVS which provided the basis for co-development between MVS and ETI.  

The patent pending cell detector utilizes an advanced algorithm that measures the radio frequency energy precisely within a given cell phone bandwidth. If the signal strength exceeds a predetermined threshold, a camera coupled to a DVR is triggered and time stamps the event.

Another noteworthy feature offered with the integrated solution is SSD4’s built-in Wi-Fi module, which provides a video file download feature that relays recorded files to a centrally located data collection server that can be configured to store any desired amount of data.
The central management software is designed to run on a data collection server and provides archiving as well as the easy retrieval of catalogued flagged video information. The archived video can then be viewed by the agency to determine if an actual offense has occurred.

The development of this system presents a unique set of engineering challenges that had to be translated into system-level criteria for functional performance and Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMC). Detection and rejection are the two characteristics that determine the value of a cell phone monitor.  The need to enforce the “no cell phone use by operators in public transit” policy has brought reliable cell phone monitoring into focus recently. The challenges for cell phone monitoring of bus and train operators are outlined in the two principle characteristics given:

A radio receiver will detect a cell phone used by the driver at a distance of 1-3 feet. Multiple characteristics such as bands utilization schemes, an adjustable sensitivity, and types of modulation must be considered. 

The ability to discriminate the received signals is the most challenging task. Filtering out of band signals should be considered. The most difficult component of interference to deal with is the cell phones used by the drivers of surrounding vehicles, pedestrians, and especially, passengers in the same vehicle. There is no simple way to discriminate cell phone signals by the power level. The driver’s phone may be a thousand times weaker than another phone in close proximity—the signal strength depends on the phone technology, distance to the cell company radio antenna station, and other parameters. A partial solution to this problem can be provided by the design of the antenna system. Directional antennas, multiple strategically located antennas, and a smart processing algorithm— all should help. Some false detection will still occur. That is why the cell phone detector should be used not as a stand-alone device, but rather as one of the sensors in a video monitoring and recording system. Ultimately, analyzing the captured videos will filter out any false triggers.

Together, the integrated devices should provide state of the art cell phone usage detection with the latest technology in mobile video surveillance to archive such events. The objective of the solution is plain and simple—to promote safety and deter cell phone usage by vehicle operators in all imaginable public transportation applications.   

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