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Center for Transportation Studies

BRT workshop features TechnoBus debut

brtworkshopsmallResearchers introduced a lime-green Metro Transit demonstration bus outfitted with navigational technology, dubbed the “TechnoBus,” at a May 7 workshop hosted by the Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Institute at the University of Minnesota.

The workshop helped identify the requirements for using lane-assist technology with bus rapid transit (BRT) and offered a live demonstration of a prototype lane-assist system installed on the TechnoBus during an extended ride to the workshop at the University’s Minneapolis campus. Representatives from transit agencies and universities across the country, state transportation departments, and the federal government, as well as manufacturers and consultants, attended the event.

Jennifer Dorn checks out the TechnoBus.

Jennifer Dorn checks out the TechnoBus.

Jennifer L. Dorn, the administrator of the Federal Transit Administration, toured the bus in conjunction with her visit to the American Public Transportation Association’s bus and paratransit conference, also held in Minneapolis. Project managers and technicians from Metro Transit and the University took the opportunity to demonstrate the lane-assist technology to Dorn as she sat for a few moments in the driver’s seat of the TechnoBus. Earlier, Dorn had noted how the innovations further expand transit options and demonstrate the adaptability of technology from other industries.

A number of high-tech tools can be used to help navigate narrow lanes. The goal of the workshop was to establish the needs from various regions of the country and help determine which technology will best suit those needs. A facilitated workshop discussion sought to identify the top challenges faced by transit agencies, the general requirements of those agencies needed to design and implement lane-assist technology, and ways to evaluate success and reliability.

The prototype lane-assist system on the TechnoBus, for example, features laser and radar-based collision avoidance devices as well as a head-up display, a virtual mirror, and assisted steering to help keep the bus centered in its lane despite weather and road conditions. Sensor arrays and a global positioning satellite system also help the bus stay on course.

Metro Transit project manager Aaron Issacs, presenting an overview of the lane-assist project during the ride, pointed out that buses rigged with lane-assist technology can take maximum advantage of narrow freeway shoulders and other dedicated lanes. Issacs characterized the bus rapid-transit project as taking a practical approach to getting buses through traffic. Ultimately, the technology promises to increase bus safety while improving efficiency, which could mean achieving higher speeds and quicker boarding.

At the workshop, Edward L. Thomas, Dorn’s associate administrator of research and technology, addressed participants. “It’s all about integrating systems,” he said, outlining his plan to utilize the expertise of the private sector, university researchers, and transit agencies in developing standards to guide the industry. Thomas also stressed the practical side of research efforts, looking to build reality checks into project plans. “That lab effort today,” he continued, “has to work tomorrow.”

FTA engineer Brian Cronin added that the lane-assist project is a good example of the kind of ideas needed as FTA solicits systems requirements for larger bus rapid-transit projects. This project and the workshop are funded by the Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office at FTA. Metro Transit, managing the project, furnished the bus, while the ITS Institute has provided the technical expertise and analysis to implement it.

The project will also involve human factors testing, led by Nic Ward and the University’s HumanFIRST Program, to measure driver adaptability to the technological innovations and compare the stress levels of drivers using the system to those without it.