With advances in technology, video surveillance systems are now offering more comprehensive coverage of the school bus — both inside and out — as well as features that can save time in managing video footage and monitoring system health.
Here are seven trends that have come to the fore in school bus surveillance.
1. Shift to high definition
The top trend identified by surveillance system suppliers is the increased availability and adoption of high-definition (HD) video cameras. However, there is variation in the definition of “high definition.”
Robert Scott, vice president of 247Security Inc., explains that 720p and 1080p HD camera systems are now widely available.
“Both will provide a quality image if the system chosen is well designed, well built,” Scott says. “That is to say, all HD systems are not created equal.”
According to Scott, the difference in picture quality between 720p and 1080p is hard to distinguish when watching the video on a computer, because the picture size will be relatively small compared to watching it on a television.
“The main difference you will experience between 720 and 1080 will be the amount of storage used,” he says. “The 1080 system will use more than two times the storage as the 720.”
Still, some suppliers point out that 1080p can provide more detail for an up-close look at an incident on the bus.
“1080p on all channels is a new trend we’re seeing,” says Andrew Beach, sales and service manager for Pro-Vision Video Systems. “One of the big benefits of that type of resolution is digital zoom. You can really drill down on an image … if you’ve got the right technology.”
Richie Howard, CEO and president of AngelTrax, notes that increasing video quality is one of the biggest factors driving the market, because “technology has changed so much.” For example, AngelTrax recently unveiled a new system, the Vulcan Series, that records up to 1080p on multiple channels.
Jack Su, CEO of Fortress Mobile, says that he sees a trend toward IP (internet protocol) video cameras.
“In the past couple of years, IP cameras have become more popular,” Su says. “IP cameras provide higher resolution.”
2. Hybrid systems
Another development that ties in with the demand for HD video is hybrid digital video recorders (DVRs).
“These systems have the ability to record both analog and high-definition camera feeds,” says Lori Jetha, director of marketing for Seon. For example, Seon’s TH6 system can record up to six analog or six HD cameras, or any combination in between.
“Hybrid DVRs are a great way to upgrade to HD at the pace your budget allows,” Jetha adds.
Clint Bryer, manager of school bus sales for Safety Vision, says that in the past, full IP HD video solutions were cost-prohibitive compared to analog. Hybrid DVRs combine the advantages of each to provide a cost-effective option.
“You can utilize analog channels for shorter distance views, and it’s still a high-quality image,” Bryer says. “But when you start looking at exterior views — from the windshield, to the side, zooming in on a license plate — you want to use IP channels for that.”
3. Wireless downloading
School bus surveillance systems can now automatically download incident videos via Wi-Fi, which can save time by eliminating the need to manually pull the hard drive from the bus.
“You can download video and get information from the DVR when the bus comes back into the yard,” Howard of AngelTrax says.
As Scott of 247Security puts it, “Wireless management continues to grow at a rapid pace as users find out that they can access video without chasing down the bus.”
Curtiss Routh, vice president of sales for REI, notes that wireless capability offers multiple advantages.
“Schools are moving this direction not only to more easily view video, but also for all the driver and system diagnostic analytics available through automated download solutions like REI’s ARMOR solution,” Routh says.
On the wireless front, Gatekeeper Systems offers an optional feature call Autowake, in which managers can use software in the office to power on or off the DVR in a selected bus while it is in the yard. This enables the user to choose the start and stop points of an incident, which Gatekeeper President/CEO Doug Dyment says helps in retrieving the full scope of evidence.
“Autowake gets the whole thing,” Dyment says.
4. Increasing interior view
As school bus seat backs have gotten taller, it has become harder for video cameras to capture a comprehensive view of the bus. To address that issue, some school bus operations have added more cameras, staggering them throughout the interior of the bus on alternating sides.
Routh of REI says that with four cameras positioned in a criss-cross fashion, “students can be seen with the high-back seats due to the view being across each row versus down the aisle.”
In some cases, the number of cameras inside the bus is multiplying.
“More school districts have opted for six or eight camera systems and a new camera configuration to literally see between the seats,” Jetha of Seon says.
Another potential solution to the visual challenge posed by high seat backs is the addition of 360-degree cameras inside the bus. The idea here is to capture more of the interior with fewer units.
In Texas, Lamar Consolidated Independent School District has been conducting a pilot program with new 360-degree cameras from Safety Vision, which will be commercially available later this year.
“Two cameras cover every single child and seat on the bus,” Bryer of Safety Vision says. “The software allows you to actually drive around the camera image. You can zoom around and turn 360 degrees.”
“We’re all looking at technology to enhance the driver’s view in the danger zone and around the entire bus.”
Dave McDonald, director of business development, Rosco Vision Systems
5. Increasing exterior view
Stop-arm cameras have gained traction in the industry in recent years, targeting illegal passing of school buses.
Another new development in video surveillance aims to enhance student safety in the danger zone by giving drivers a full view around the exterior of the bus.
For instance, Seon offers a 360-degree surround view camera system, called the inView 360. Jetha says that the system “provides drivers with better visibility around the bus by eliminating dangerous blind spots that can lead to tragic accidents.”
Dave McDonald, director of business development and specifications compliance for Rosco Vision Systems, says that exterior view technologies can complement the use of school bus mirrors to enhance the driver’s field of vision.
To that end, Rosco has developed video camera systems that provide either a 360-degree view around the bus or a 180-degree view (front and rear).
“The long and short of it is we’re all looking at technology to enhance the driver’s view in the danger zone and around the entire bus,” McDonald says.
As another example, Thomas Built Buses offers the Perimeter View 360 (PV360) camera package as part of its BusWise suite of technologies.
“Drivers now have full visibility of the danger zones surrounding a bus and are able to see students who may be within range of the bus, but who are not immediately visible under normal circumstances,” says Leslie Kilgore, vice president of engineering for Thomas Built. “They also can see cars that may be trying to pass a stopped school bus or even a possible threat such as an animal or adult approaching the bus. Never before have drivers had this level of visibility at their fingertips.”
6. Remote health check
School bus operations need to know if their surveillance systems aren’t running properly. Otherwise, they run the risk of missing video footage when incidents arise.
Accordingly, suppliers have developed solutions that enable managers to remotely monitor the health of the surveillance systems via software applications, “so if there is an issue, you can be proactive on the maintenance of the systems,” Dyment of Gatekeeper says.
These health check features, which are reportedly in high demand, also offer the potential to save time for school bus operators.
“The last thing they need to be doing is taking three hours every week for [surveillance system] maintenance checks,” says Sam Lehnert, marketing manager for Pro-Vision. “They don’t even have to get out of their chair — they can access DVRs remotely.”
7. Software enhancements, integration
Beyond the health check features, there is a wider trend of offering more software solutions and management capabilities for video surveillance.
Scott of 247Security says that surveillance systems are increasingly being integrated with other technologies, like GPS and student tracking. One example is 247Security’s integration with Transfinder software to provide video at bus stops.
Jetha of Seon notes that the integration of video with multiple technologies helps school transportation staff in making informed decisions, answering parent inquiries, and analyzing incidents.
“Video surveillance footage can be viewed in playback software synchronized with audio, vehicle speed, and signal inputs such as stop-arm deployment, braking, [and] turn signals for a more complete view of what happened,” Jetha says.
Another option that suppliers are offering is the ability to stream live video with GPS and a cellular connection.
“That’s becoming more of an issue, especially with the threat of terrorists, or bus drivers being attacked,” Dyment of Gatekeeper says.
Data and incident management capabilities are also expanding, enabling transportation managers to search for bus events in various ways.
“Say you’ve got a number of bullying incidents over a period of time. You may want to track that information and pull up all those incidents for a particular student or bus,” Dyment explains. “We give them the ability with enterprise software to categorize those incidents in any number of ways — search by bus number, driver ID number, a particular incident, or keyword search.”
Also, cloud storage has made it easier to share video footage of incidents.
“The transportation director can view it, the superintendent can view it, the principal can view it. If you want parents to see it, you can send them a link. … They can watch but not download or copy,” Su of Fortress Mobile says. “It brings a lot of convenience and security.”