If you live in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania and you have a thing about riding on crowded city buses, we have good news for you: those buses can now tell you how crowded they are. You just bring up an app on your phone, look up the bus you want to ride, and see the results. It turns out that buses have been self-reporting their passenger numbers for years.
It is all made possible by a series of sensors mounted inside the buses. The sensors emit lasers that cannot be seen by the human eye. What do those lasers do? They account for every person stepping on or off the bus. The software that analyzes sensor data literally counts every passenger.
A companion mobile app reports that data to riders. But that’s not all. Other sensors mounted on the bus can determine its location in real-time. That data can be compared against routes and schedules to let riders know if buses are running on time. Riders can use the data to steer clear of overcrowded buses that are falling behind schedule.
It is All About Sensors
We can do so many things with technology these days that it is easy to take self-reporting buses for granted. Rock West Solutions, a California company that specializes in developing sensor technology, says that it’s all about deploying the right sensors in the right places.
Those lasers that count passengers as they board and get off can be deployed for all sorts of applications. They can count products on the assembly line or monitor the entrance of a factory or office building. Place them near the doors of subway cars and you have a system capable of monitoring traffic. It is truly remarkable.
As far as the Allegheny County buses and their GPS capabilities are concerned, you are talking sensors that communicate with satellites to pinpoint location. It is the same technology that allows your sat nav smartphone app to get you from point A to point B.
Sensors make the modern world go around. The healthcare sector uses them to diagnose illnesses that previously went undetected. Law enforcement uses them to initiate faster response times and mitigate potential crimes. Retailers use sensors to reduce shoplifting. Data centers use them to monitor server temperatures. The list goes on and on.
The Right Sensor for the Job
Rock West engineers say the secret to maximizing sensor technology is to create the right sensor for a given job. Most sensors in use today have just one or two functions. By keeping them so specific, engineers can glean exactly the kind of data they want for any particular scenario.
Of course, it is fairly routine to build devices equipped with multiple sensors. Each one has its own function. Take the law enforcement body cam, for example. A typical body cam has on-board audio, video, and geolocation sensors. Some of them have additional passive sensors that can interact with other sensors during the normal course of duty.
Each one of the sensors has a specific task. It collects a specific kind of data and sends it back to a central location through wi-fi or cellular networks. From there, the data is analyzed by signal processing software that isolates only what is relevant to the task at hand.
Residents of Allegheny County now have access to real-time data that tells them how crowded city buses are and whether or not those buses are running on schedule. Thanks to a variety of sensors mounted on city buses, riders are kept up to date at all times. It’s a wonderful thing.