Bringing the smart connected bus to life: how to solve an echidna problem

NEC Australia Pty Ltd

Wednesday, 11 January, 2023


Bringing the smart connected bus to life: how to solve an echidna problem

Today’s buses are well connected, generally through an incremental change of applications to improve safety, experience and performance of fleets.

Data connectivity is integral to public transport — passenger information, fleet and driver management, and ticketing systems depend on it. Each application comes with its own proprietary hardware, software and connectivity. It’s the overkill equivalent of needing a new phone for each app you use.

Some buses have 10+ systems onboard and so external antennas create an ‘echidna’ bus, where each application needs its own box, installation, maintenance and connection.

Reimagining public transport connectivity to deliver the smart connected bus

The smart connected bus uses mobile data networks to share information with other vehicles and infrastructure. This connection:

  • provides communications to and from the driver
  • provides communications and announcements to passengers
  • improves passenger safety
  • enables real-time video streaming in emergencies
  • assists drivers to deliver better customer experiences
  • monitors buses to improve maintenance and performance
  • provides compliance and performance regimes through automation
  • brings a continuous improvement approach to fleet operation.
     

It’s an exciting window into the future of highly connected smart transport.

Why drive the connected bus

1. Rebuild passenger trust

Getting passengers back on public transport post-COVID is a challenge for public transport operators and authorities. This comes down to trust, comfort and feeling safe.

Building trust demands taking action. People need timely, accurate information before and during their journeys to feel safe. This relies on scheduling systems producing accurate data about arrival times, passenger loading or delays.

Customers want to get this information their way — typically, on their mobile devices. As more operators prioritise equity and accessibility, how we deliver data to differently-abled commuters is crucial. Customer communication needs to outline accessibility details across different transport modes to help personalise transport planning and provide information in accessible, inclusive formats.

Safety and security are second only to reliability. The ability to rapidly process security data and identify events is a game changer for safe travel; the ability to monitor and report on safety and security events on moving vehicles is becoming more critical.

2. Support the driver experience

The operational needs of operators are becoming more complex, just as passengers are. Retaining and supporting drivers is critical to every transport network with all-time low unemployment and a shift from driving as a preferred profession. Support strategies being employed by operators and supported by technology and communications in connected buses include:

  • more flexibility in managing rosters — dynamic planning during operational days
  • turn-by-turn navigation guiding drivers on unfamiliar routes
  • performance monitoring and gamification
  • predictive systems to accurately predict arrival times.
3. Monitor assets, conditions and people

Real-time condition monitoring of buses and infrastructure improves fleet reliability and safety. This can include:

  • real-time monitoring and recording of bus status including engine condition, tyre pressure, driving behaviour, incidents and issues
  • real-time feedback on electric vehicle charge and integration with charging management services
  • advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) feeding black spot data to drivers for safer driving.
4. Support as infrastructure evolves

As well as operational needs and challenges, bus operators can manage a wide range of infrastructure transitions.

  • Cities across the world are evolving their ticketing systems to support a much wider range of ticketing media, increasing demands on vehicle communications infrastructure.
  • From 2025 all new vehicles in Australia must be zero emission. This global trend will see large-scale, accelerated fleet refreshes.
  • An upgrade to 5G, then quickly to 6G, will enable data transmission with much lower latency. This will drive greater investment in cooperative intelligent transport systems — the first step to bringing autonomous vehicles to Australia.

These infrastructure changes pressure operators to consider on-bus solutions and plot out change management.

5. Grab the big opportunities of big data

Connected buses create opportunities for:

  • buses to act as moving digital sensors within a smart city
  • buses as mobile infrastructure and road condition monitoring services
  • developing digital twins of the transport network and bus fleets, enabling preventative maintenance
  • leveraging AI to monitor video feeds on vehicles — improving safety and security.

Avoiding the echidna bus

The echidna bus appears when legacy systems converge.

Operators have vehicles at different stages of their life cycle and want to maximise their asset lives — introducing connectivity in mixed fleets with flexibility for future changes may involve adding new infrastructure to an already crowded bus.

Many operators have buses resembling echidnas on wheels, with each existing or future onboard service requiring its infrastructure and communications network. NEC teams have counted up to 14 different communications networks coming off buses, each system having its own 3G/4G comms bearer and GPS.

There is often little integration between on-bus services, so drivers don’t have a complete view of all on-bus systems and may have a confusing mishmash of displays. This extends to the services in the back office: ops staff source data from multiple sources, creating inefficiencies and duplication.

The connected bus made simple

So, how do we create the best-case connected bus?

  1. Standardise communication channels. Start with standardisation and requesting shared future-ready gateways (5G/DSRC ready) that serve as the hub of new bus systems. Next, consider the drivers. Take advantage of tablet technology, which can surface information from all these services to the driver through a simple, intuitive interface, mandating shared vehicle infrastructure for solutions providers. Bye bye, echidna.
  2. Open and emerging standards. Define or leverage emerging standards such as ITxPT for subsystem communications and infrastructure sharing. Ensure support for open standards such as SIRI and NeTEx.
  3. Shared infrastructure. Procure the hardware, creating multi-application driver displays and comms gateways in conjunction with coach builders. Plan for adding new features in the vehicle lifetime.
  4. Standardise device selection. Install core hardware elements during builds and enable through-life services with software upgrades.
  5. Standardise the back office. Mandate for service level integration in back-office systems via API integration of the different data sources coming off vehicles. Work for platform-level integrations targeting ‘single pane of glass’ OCC for simplified operations.

Planning your connected bus with a local partner

NEC enables smart transport in over 100 cities on four continents encompassing smart ticketing, safety and security, fleet management and telematics. The company has been developing AVL and telematics solutions in Australia for 12 years, and its research and development team is leading the way in exciting new smart transport initiatives — like the connected bus.

NEC is keen to work with operators to help plot a path to tomorrow’s connected bus. The company’s free one-day workshop covers existing and future fleet needs, understanding today’s technology and operations, and roadmap options. Attendees will also receive a follow-up report covering fleet details and systems inventory; technology and operations overview; roadmap options; and financial analysis.

Image credit: iStock.com/bernardbodo

This article was previously posted on the NEC blog and has been republished here with permission.

Originally published here.

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