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May 26, 2011  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

More Than Just a Radio

Digital two-way radios for the school bus industry offer messaging capabilities, increased capacity, interoperability and GPS tracking, all while remaining affordable.

by Brittany-Marie Swanson

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"We have deployed RFID readers on school buses by the door so that as kids are getting on and off the bus, the bus is automatically tracking them. It knows which students got on what bus at what GPS location and time, and can send that information back to the district over the MOTOTRBO radio," Williams says. The system's GPS capabilities can also be used to enhance bus routing with fleet management and security applications.

In addition, a driver with a radio working on the MOTOTRBO platform can e-mail or text parents a child's location from the bus.

Kenwood radios can be outfitted with a GPS receiver for real-time bus tracking. Also, Kenwood offers Fleetsync tracking software that provides digital fleet unit identification, selective calling, status messaging and text messaging for dispatch operations.

"The ability to pinpoint the exact location of the bus as needed or if the driver has an emergency on the bus" is something a district should look for when selecting communications equipment, Hinerfeld says.

Communications on Kenwood NEXEDGE radios are encrypted to prevent unauthorized people from listening to radio feeds.
<p>Communications on Kenwood NEXEDGE radios are encrypted to prevent unauthorized people from listening to radio feeds.</p>

Multifunctional systems lead to cost savings
Today, communications equipment for school buses is multifaceted. The same platform that allows for digital radio communications can also track your bus and students, send text messages and e-mails, provide engine diagnostics and collect data on driver behavior. These different capabilities also provide the opportunity for savvy fleet managers to cut costs.

"One of the big benefits that comes with a private system is no recurring costs - no cellular charges," Williams says. "That's certainly a big plus right there - you have voice and data capabilities without the monthly bill."

"Cost of ownership would be a primary factor in choosing an AVL (Automatic Vehicle Location) system,"Hinerfeld explains. "With budget cuts, it is nice to be able to own a system without having to worry about a monthly fee."

Kenwood's NEXEDGE radio repeaters support both analog and digital radios, so that "school bus fleets do not have to change over all at once, which means a budget-conscious and smooth migration to digital operation," Hinerfeld adds.

Motorola two-way radios that work on its MOTOTRBO platform allow for two simultaneous conversations over a single channel.

Using GPS technology, districts can collect data to create better bus routes. Improved routing can help cut down on fuel costs, and even the number of buses needed.

"There is a cost-savings aspect in understanding the routes that your buses are taking and how long it's taking them," Tulyasathien says. "In addition, bus companies can benefit from these solutions providing traditional 'fleet management' functionality and information that can lead to cost savings. Driver behavior - leading to training as applicable for safety and/or fuel consumption savings - and vehicle diagnostics - leading to improved maintenance schedules, less repairs and cost savings - are two examples."

Status messaging and AVL, Hinerfeld says, "can help control cost by identifying when a driver starts a route, where the bus is on the route and when the route is complete. Many of these features can be accomplished without the driver having to do anything but drive."

Even more important, these solutions can save a district time and resources in the event of an emergency by making it easy to locate students and drivers. Using digital radio equipment, districts have the option of instant interoperable communication with first responders.

Motorola is also planning to roll out a real-time video surveillance solution using an existing wireless access point for buses: the AP 7131.

"When we have [the AP 7131] device providing Wi-Fi to students on the bus, there are a lot of other things we could also do because we've got a high-speed connection going out to the bus," Williams explains. "One of those, for example, would be video surveillance. The school or bus driver would have the capability to basically pull up a web interface on demand ... and see live video from that school bus if there's something going on."

Bus could become a 'classroom on wheels'
Incorporating wireless capabilities into the school bus environment has become an additional focus for Motorola's education customers.

"Now that our students are using fewer textbooks and relying on digital devices and digital content [such as eBooks], it's critical that they have [Internet] access everywhere they go ... whether it's across the campus or on a school bus," Williams says.

Motorola's wireless access point for buses, AP 7131, can have an embedded 3G modem. This allows a school to extend its wireless network to its buses.

"With built-in Virtual Private Network capability, Internet access on the school bus can have the same content filtering and security features as inside the classroom - but in a mobile environment," Williams explains.

This means that on the bus, students would have access to their school's website, assignments and e-mails, but they would not have access to content that is deemed inappropriate for school use.

An added benefit of having wireless access on the bus, Williams says, is an improvement in student bus etiquette. Busy students are less likely to disrupt a driver, who is concentrated on steering the bus or communicating on the bus' two-way radio system.

"Our education customers have noticed that in addition to the academic benefits of using wireless technology on the bus, the behavioral benefits are equally as important," he adds. "We can keep [students] occupied ... so it actually improves behavior and calms the kids down. It's a side benefit that nobody really expected."

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