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Keeping the buses moving

How embedded computing modules passenger information services are being used to keep passengers up to date.

In a bid to ease inner city congestion, lower harmful emissions and provide a secure infrastructure, local, regional and national authorities are being tasked with raising the profile of public transport. Generally, public transport is preferred over private forms of transportation because of one overriding factor: its convenience. Trains, buses and trams can offer a fast, affordable and largely reliable infrastructure for mass transportation within urban areas. However, the single biggest detractor from their appeal is unforeseen delays in the service. Now technology is tackling this problem, by delivering up-to-date travel information directly to the passenger.
Passenger information systems are beginning to be deployed in large numbers across all forms of transportation. They rely heavily on information about the local travel conditions, the location of the bus/train/tram, as well as passenger conditions such as current capacity. Gathering this information has, for some time, been handled through bespoke systems that are complicated to maintain and extend, making the roll-out of passenger information systems difficult and expensive.
Now there are industry-standard solutions to creating passenger information systems that integrate information about multiple forms of transportation, known as Intermodal Transport Control Systems (ITCS). Based on commercial technology these systems now form the hub of operations for many transportation companies, such as London Bus Services Ltd (LBSL), which operates its entire ITCS on behalf of Transport for London (TfL). With more than 8500 buses running in excess of 770 routes and more than 6million passengers transported every day, this represents the largest ITCS system in operation anywhere in the world. Operators must be able to see exactly what is happening anywhere in the system at any given time.
Furthermore, it is becoming increasingly important to disseminate some of the information gathered through ITCS to passengers, so that they are better equipped to plan their onward journey. Wireless technology, including WiFi and GPRS/3G make it increasingly simple to connect devices – even buses – to back office networks.
Today the technology is being deployed through intelligent displays, which are able to communicate with ITCS and display the information on LCD screens inside the bus. Increasingly, buses are equipped with intelligent displays which are used to inform passengers not only about upcoming stops but also about route diversions, estimated time of arrival and the status of other forms of transport such as connecting buses or trains.
Using a combination of embedded processing and wireless communications, Trapeze ITS has developed a range of Multifunctional Displays (MFD) which can be installed within public transportation, to deliver live route information and travel times, as well as details about other transport services and important passenger information. These MFDs deliver live travel information to passengers using advanced GPS technology and over-the-air updates through GSM or radio communications. The MFDs can be used to display route information, as well as other forms of multimedia data such as advertising messages and infotainment services.
Transportation applications represent a challenging environment for technology that is more accustomed to being used in a single location. However, through careful design the MFDs developed by Trapeze are able to operate in these harsh conditions, offering a range of mounting options. At the heart of the Trapeze MFD is congatec's X945 embedded computing module. Based on either Intel Pentium or Celeron processors, these mid-range modules provide all the processing power needed to drive the MFD and process the information that is received, for display on the LCD screen. Perhaps from a passenger's point of view, the most important information is the name of the next stop; the MFD displays this and other route information in a colourful, easy-to-read map. This also helps overcome language barriers that can be encountered when only audio announcements are available. This is a particular problem associated with using a personal address system in public spaces.
The X945 represents a well established single-board computer solution. Based on Intel processors, it conforms to the ETX specification 2.7, which offers a fast (>1GHz) processor, up to 2Gbyte of RAM (SO-DIMM DDR2), four PCI Express lanes, two serial ATA ports and one EIDE interface. In this configuration, the X945 also offers six USB 2.0 connections, two COMM ports, an IrDA interface and support for a PS/2 keyboard and mouse. A fast Ethernet IEEE 802.3u 100Base-Tx connection is also integrated and the module offers AC'97 Rev 2.2 compatibility, with Line In, Line Out, Mic In and a Digital High Definition Interface with support for multiple audio codecs.
The X945 also offers support for an advanced multimedia experience, which is important in this application. With two independent pipelines the module can support dual screens and also offers integrated motion video support in the form of motion compensation, subpicture support, dynamic bob & weave and HDTV (1920 x 1080) support. The flat panel interface is a dual 112MHz LVDS transmitter with automatic panel detection via the Embedded Panel Interface (EPI), based on VESA EDID 1.3. Environmentally, the module is capable of operating from 0degC up to 60degC, in a non-condensing relative humidity of between 10% and 90%.
An important feature of the congatec embedded module product family is the ability to customise the embedded BIOS to display an OEM logo at boot-up. This feature is supported through a software utility developed by congatec that allows modifications to the BIOS stored in ROM. The BIOS is the file executed at power-up that initiates the basic hardware interfaces and readies the processor to boot the host operating system. For this reason it should only be modified with caution and the CGUTIL tool from congatec has been developed specifically for this process. It enables an OEM to substitute the default boot image with their choice of image – typically a company logo – which is then displayed during the initialisation phase of the system. This can provide a valuable differentiating feature for OEMs and their customers.
The team at congatec not only provided the X945 embedded module but also assisted Trapeze's engineers in the system design, by validating the circuit board and overall design for use in a harsh environment. The use of modular processing boards is now commonplace in many applications, but using standardised modules is particularly appropriate in this example, as the maintenance cycle for the systems needs to be low, given that the buses are in use almost constantly. By using a standard format computer module, any faults can be repaired quickly, thereby minimising down-time.
The availability of passenger information systems is increasing. With the right technical solution operators can now offer their customers – the passenger – a better service, more accurate information and a more enjoyable journey. Thanks to companies like congatec and Trapeze, taking a bus has never been more attractive.

Author
Thomas Locher and Christian Eder

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