Thursday, October 17

Campus shuttles move forward with new tracking system


The UCLA Campus Express Shuttle Service has partnered with
researchers at the university’s computer science department
to develop and implement a new high-tech tracking system for campus
shuttle buses.

The tracking system was installed on all 17 campus shuttle
buses, which serve 6,000 riders daily during the regular school
year.

Shuttle bus managers used to depend on radios and roving
supervisors to track the fleet of buses serving students, staff and
faculty.

The new system, known as Realtime Bus Tracking, works via an
on-board computer and a Global Positioning System unit on each bus.
The system was designed by graduate students working with computer
science professor Richard Muntz.

The GPS units, mounted on the front windshield of each bus,
allow managers at the shuttle service office to track buses from
their computers.

“We use it (the tracking system) mainly to track the
spacing and the timeliness of the route,” said Byron Mayhan,
a supervisor for Transit Operations.

“I can look at my screen and see exactly where every bus
is,” he added.

Mayhan can then determine if the buses are adequately spaced and
make the appropriate adjustments by communicating with bus drivers
via the radio.

Both the researcher team and the shuttle service reap benefits
from their partnership: The researchers get real-world data from
the experiment, and the shuttle service gets the technology free of
charge.

The system is not perfect, however. The biggest problem is the
“dead zones,” specifically near Dodd Hall, where the
signal, provided by an AT&T wireless network between the GPS
units and the central office, is lost. The system partly
compensates by keeping the bus on the screen ““ even when the
signal is lost ““ until the GPS detects it again.

But even when the GPS is detecting the buses, it is not exact,
since trees and buildings can obstruct the signal.

In developing the system, instead of using name brand parts, the
graduate students devised their own “special configuration
from off the shelf,” according to Muntz.

“We decided to implement our own setup because it gave us
more flexibility,” said Scott Friedman, a graduate student
working on the project.

Having flexibility allows the researchers to build off their
current system and expand the system in the future.

The tracking system is part of a research project that Muntz
hopes will lead to more advanced applications. One of the focuses
of the research is on “computers embedded in the physical
world,” Muntz said.

In other words, the researchers on the project will attempt to
use sensors on the roads along bus routes and in the buses to
detect environmental variables in the real world.

The other focus is on finding patterns in the data to further
apply the research.

“Ultimately, we’re interested in emergency
response,” Friedman said. The system, he said, will be
capable of determining obstacles ahead, such as accidents, heavy
traffic or construction, in order to help operators reroute
vehicles.

Other possible applications of the research include determining
how long it takes a bus to get from one point to another and
installing the system on other service vehicles.

Currently, buses are supposed to run every 10 to 12 minutes.
When the regular school year begins, they should run about every
eight minutes, according to Mayhan.

Mayhan and Muntz’s research team will continue to work
together to improve the system. There is a possibility of
connecting the system with maintenance sensors already on the buses
which can track mechanical problems before they cause an actual
failure.

Also up for consideration is the possibility of adding LCD
screens at bus stops that will let riders know how long they can
plan on waiting until the next bus arrives.

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