Busses Inch Toward Autonomous Operation

Transit agencies are beginning to rely on IoT networks to improve safety and offer commuters new, energy-efficient modes of transport.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor

According to the American Public Transportation Association's most recent fact book, public transit busses in the United States drove 2.3 billion miles in 2013, and a survey by METRO (a magazine serving the transit and motorcoach sector) determined that a total of 66,142 public transit busses operated in the United States in 2015. Uri Tamir, Mobileye's director of strategic initiatives, says this represents a huge market for Mobileye's Shield+ technology, which uses up to four vision sensors (cameras) mounted around the vehicle to collect imagery that is processed in on-board processors and used to alert drivers to the presence of pedestrians or bicycles inside blind spots.

"It's like the driver's third eye," Tamir says—albeit one that only works during daylight hours. While Mobileye uses the same algorithms to process images in the camera module it sells to carmakers, the camera in the module it sells to original equipment manufaturers (OEMs) has enough computational power to "see" potential hazards irrespective of exterior lighting conditions. Not so—yet—with Shield+. However, he says, the next version of the product will be able to work at night. "Our aim is [for Shield+] to see as well as the human eye," says Dan Galves, Mobileye's chief communications officer.

Through the Smart City Challenge, Mobileye will install its Shield+ units on 300 of Columbus' busses (85 percent of the transit agency's fleet). New York's MTA also plans to install the technology on 100 of its busses, and Tamir says Mobileye is in talks with dozens of other transit authorities as well.

While Mobileye's collision-avoidance technology operates on the bus, the data that the Shield+ units collect, all of which is matched to latitude and longitude through an integrated GPS receiver, is later uploaded to the cloud via an integrated SIM card. The transit agencies can then analyze this data in order to identify points on bus routes, such as busy intersections, where the potential for accidents is highest.

"Until now, city officials and planners could only look for infrastructure factors that contribute to a crash once a crash has already happened," Tamir says. "But imagine a world where you can identify dangerous intersections prior to a crash."

Mobileye declines to say how much the technology costs transit agencies, but believes that their investment can be offset by reducing the frequency of accidents between busses and other vehicles, cyclists or pedestrians. Fewer accidents, aside from their positive impacts on public safety, would also translate into fewer delays for commuters and the traffic that is blocked or slowed in the wake of a crash. A survey that Mobileye recently commissioned showed that increasing the safety of public transit at dangerous intersections was the third-top issue that respondents wished for from cities, following reduced road congestion and increased public transit availability. (It's worth noting that a study conducted in 2014 showed that in the United States, taking public transit is actually far safer than driving.)

Reducing accident rates could also lower insurance costs for transit agencies. Recent research from The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found that casualty and liability claims for transit agencies in the United States have increased at an average rate of 2.8 percent per year (for an annual average of $8,069 per bus) between 2002 and 2011. By 2011, insurance claims reached a nationwide annual total of $483 million.

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