Statistically, it's safer to transport children to and from school by school bus than by car, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association. But accidents and other bus-related incidents that result in student injury and negligence are frequently causes for litigation. Leaving students on the bus when it arrives at school, sexual abuse of students by the bus driver, bus aide, or other students, and injuries caused by student misbehavior are just a few situations that might result in liability for a school district or contracted private bus company.
For many passengers, the 14-inch drop from the bottom step of a high-floor transit bus or motorcoach is challenging. In transit service, drivers do not assist or even spot boarding or alighting passengers. While motorcoach drivers typically assist or spot boarding or alighting passengers at the front door, the drivers of motorcoaches deployed in commuter/express service (provided by transit agencies or companies under contract to them) do not. Nor do scheduled service drivers do so consistently, especially at intermediate stops.
In Part 1 of this three-installment series, I characterized the development of MCI's new ramp-equipped accessible motorcoach (the MCI D45 CRT LE) as a "paradigm shift." While I will expand on why this is so in the third and last installment next month, this installment will overview the most unique features of this remarkable vehicle -- a vehicle whose ultimate potential I feel has not yet been realized.
The previous six National Bus Trader articles on this subject stabbed at some highlights and low-lights within the extraordinary spectrum of socio-economic, institutional and other issues encompassed by our transition from humanoid-driven to robotic vehicles. At this point, I thought it might be helpful to take a quick glance at some of the hardware that serves as the robots' mechanical fixtures, apart from the electronics and the digitalia: Cameras and sensors. These components were employed in "transitional" or "steppingstone" efforts along the path to truly driverless vehicles. So I feel it is worth a look at how these technologies were used and abused at this earlier stage of HAV (highly-automated vehicle) development. Should the reader wish to view the math in the robots' brains, I recommend Multiple View Geometry in Computer Vision by Richard Hartley and Andrew Zisserman. The bible for artificial intelligence. Way over my head. If also over yours, no apologies necessary.
Industry insiders, including government officials, cite an interesting analogy as a justification for their initial jump into the regulation of driverless vehicles that was first promulgated on September 20, 2016. The point made is that, had current regulations been in effect when the "Model T" hit the streets, we would have experienced far fewer collisions.
As Part 2 of this series hopefully demonstrated there is much to learn about what lies ahead in the motorcoach world from the experiences of modes deploying smaller vehicles. This installment provides a preview of the likely emergence of "highly-automated vehicles," or HAVs, in the world of large vehicles: School bus, transit and motorcoach service.
In a monthly magazine, it is almost impossible to keep up changes that are racing along This past September, 2015, small fleets of Volvos and Ford Fusions were released into the general traffic stream in Pittsburgh, and driverless Anheuser-Busch trucks began delivering Budweiser and Bud Light. The Netherlands and Finland have been deploying driverless motorcoaches for months now. And we already have a few similar services operating in the U.S.
In Part 1 of this series, I identified the enormous range of benefits that would likely accompany even the first wave of autonomous buses, coaches, trucks and delivery vehicles. And I identified a handful of dysfunctional consequences, the most serious of which is a Tsunami of driver unemployment. Lest anyone doubt these inevitabilities, he or she might consider consulting the seven-installment series in National Bus Trader titled "Bad Regulations and Worse Responses" (June 2014 through January 2015).
National Bus Trader has always been a leader in its selection and treatment of topics related to technology and innovation. So the decision to craft a lengthy article about NBT Editor Larry Plachno's experiences "behind-the-wheel" of a motorcoach-of-the-future at a "ZF Ride & Drive" event in Aachen, Germany (NBT, September, 2016) should not have been a surprise. Nor should it come as a surprise that safety, liability and other issues related to this technology will be explored as well.
As traffic engineers we take care to plan, design, and operate our roads for all users. When we are working in a complex urban environment, we must consider pedestrians, wheelchairs, vision impaired, bicycles, buses, and trucks. When we add automated, connected, and self-driving vehicles to the mix the complexity becomes more complex. That is why the profession is challenging and interesting.