We approach any talk of smart cars, delivery vans, and tractor trailers with, at best, idle curiosity. But what if the driverless vehicle in question was responsible for transporting your child to and from school every day? Are parents ready for smart buses?
That’s the vision of Seattle-based design company, Teague, which is working on a new smart bus concept that would replace the nation’s aged, iconic yellow school bus fleet for the first time in decades. (At nearly 500,000 vehicles, school buses constitute the nation’s largest form of public transit.)
Project-named Hannah, the smart bus would represent a radical departure not just for the bus itself, but also in the ways in which it carries out its duties.
Rather than kids migrating toward a centralized bus stop, for example, the smart bus would do pick up and drop off from the child’s front door. This elimination of the traditional hub-and-spoke system, coupled with doors on both sides of the bus, would eliminate one of the most dangerous aspects of school transport: crossing busy commuter streets.
Teague also envisions these vehicles being much smaller – carrying 6 children at most – and the passengers would face each other much the way they do in the school cafeteria (a design focused in part on eliminating the teasing and bullying allowed by kids seated behind each other).
In other ways Hannah would operate like other smart vehicles. Facial recognition software would be used both to allow a child access to the bus as well as to confirm and communicate the child’s whereabout from home to school and back. Artificial intelligence applications also would be used to monitor traffic conditions and re-route the bus as needed.
Of particular interest to parents of younger children is Teague’s idea of connecting the buses directly with parents. Imagine if mom is running 15 minutes late on her return commute: she could ping the bus via an app and the bus could re-route to drop off other kids first, thereby delaying its arrival until mom gets home.
Teague also believes smart buses could save school systems millions by enabling the vehicles to operate midday as smart transport vehicles for the likes of Amazon.
The big question we started with, however, remains: how comfortable would parents be in trusting their children to a driverless bus? Teague addresses the issue head-on:
“While it’s true that Hannah vehicles are driverless, Hannah actually delivers better supervision than today’s school buses. To understand this, consider whether it’s actually possible for a driver to supervise 50+ kids seated in rows of seats a dozen deep while simultaneously driving. The answer is most likely not.
“And yet we are conditioned by this illusion of supervision, so much so that a driverless school vehicle might feel like a non-starter to some. However, any fears will eventually be quelled, because the supervisory powers of Hannah’s connected vehicles far surpass the overtaxed pair of eyes and ears on today’s school buses.”
So how about it parents? Are you ready for a smart bus for your child?