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The Source for Public Transportation News and Analysis February 10, 2012
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The Bus as a Data Node: Bringing Systems Together
BY JOSEPH WRIGHT, Chief Architect, Harris Corporation, Washington, DC

Today’s public transportation agencies enjoy the benefits of Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) systems, Computer-Aided Design/Automatic Vehicle Location, on-board diagnostics, and other on-board systems. The data these technologies generate lead to more efficient operations and better use of assets—and address many issues in real time.

Unfortunately, not all of these systems work in concert, which may leave transit operations having to piece together disparate data on the back end. Next-generation bus data collection and analysis systems that leverage fully integrated real-time data sources are beginning to emerge today.

How public transit authorities can best leverage this data requires a fresh, new perspective. Thinking of the bus as a data node on a large network is the starting point for understanding entirely new capabilities in the transit market.

Analog to Digital Changes Long Held Assumptions
The shift from analog to digital throughout the public transit world is well recognized. Less known are some of the implications and opportunities that are quickly emerging from this transition.

To understand the potential of emerging systems and why it is important to think of buses as data nodes, we must first understand what systems will be on board new buses. We also need to recognize that on-board vehicle data systems, communications systems, and back office systems need to be integrated to take full advantage of the new data being collected.

Vehicle Data Systems
The term vehicle data system (VDS) refers to the collection of all data-generating systems on board a bus. These systems include advanced fare collection, video security, mobile asset management, weather monitoring, collision avoidance and pedestrian safety, passenger management, enunciators, on-board video display, vehicle performance monitoring, and driver monitoring systems.

While some of these systems share real-time data, many either do not or cannot interface with each other, resulting in data silos.

Next-generation systems will use data from various components to establish holistic “situational awareness” of bus operations. Location data can interface with fare payment, on-board video (for hyper-local advertising), mobile inventory management, temperature sensors, and other systems to provide location awareness throughout the bus. Conversely, roadside ITMS or DSRC sensors can validate GPS data to improve safety, security, or schedule adherence for buses. VDS integration is essential in the creation of operational awareness as the foundation of next-generation transit operations.

Communications Systems
With on-board systems working in unison to create operational awareness, buses must be able to communicate their data in real time to allow a public transit agency to manage its operations. This process requires reliable infrastructure and communications systems to ensure that vehicles remain connected to the transit enterprise network and data flows continuously.

This infrastructure will evolve from LAN/WAN-based networks to wireless Metro Area Networks that will allow vehicles to maintain secure, reliable communications along their routes.

Currently, most system components on a bus have their own dedicated communications link, which results in “porcupine” antenna arrays on buses and increases the complexity of managing each subsystem. A benefit of migrating from multiple subsystems to an integrated communications system is the ability to employ a single (redundant) link that allows for multi-frequency, variable bandwidth, and high throughput rates, allowing data to be concatenated, analyzed, and used for decision making in real time.

Integrated Transit Systems
Where there is some correlation of data in today’s public transit environment, next-generation transit systems will rely on real-time data from on-board systems to create a detailed view of system performance.

Public transit agencies will use passenger, vehicle performance, schedules, location, security, weather, traffic, and other data from on-board systems to provide situational control at their facilities.

Exception-based alerts will notify controllers of issues, which can be proactively shared with public safety agencies, first responders, and media outlets.

To take full advantage of the possibilities that can be achieved by considering the bus as a data node, public transit authorities will need to merge their Information Technology (IT) and Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) departments. When there is no distinction between IT and ITS data, agencies can leverage all data in daily operations.

Capturing, Integrating, and Leveraging Data is a Catalyst for Change
With advances in collision avoidance, pedestrian awareness, more precise geospatial information, mechanical control systems, and security systems, buses will become more predictable, safer, and efficient.

Ultimately, as these systems are refined, they can provide new capabilities including the advent of driverless buses that combine on-board data heuristics with remotely monitored and controlled capabilities.

New systems are on the way. New capabilities will transform transportation. But new thinking is required in order to maximize the benefits. Starting to think of the bus as a data node is a key starting point. 

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