California City Brings IoT to Buses

Montebello is capturing sensor data and video footage from each of its moving buses in real time, which can also be viewed historically, with video linked to sensor data, time and GPS location, making reported incident investigation faster and easier.
Published: April 10, 2019

Investigating incident reports on city buses poses a challenge for municipal transit and security offices, even if there are cameras recording 24-7. Although many agencies have cameras in place to surveille a public area, including on public transit, identifying footage of a reported incident can be time-consuming, especially if an individual knows only the general time or route at which it happened.

To address this challenge and to gain additional bus-specific intelligence, the City of Montebello, in southern California, is employing an Internet of Things (IoT)-based system to capture and enable the tracking of video coverage, linked to location data, inside and around each of its 72 buses. With the technology in place, explains David Tsuen, the city’s IT manager, Montebello employees can capture video as an incident occurs and receive alerts about potential problems, as well as view historical data linked to a particular time and place. This enables the city to better investigate security issues.

David Tsuen

The technology, which was taken live three months ago, consists of video cameras employing an IoT network provided by Stream IT, with the underlying video and IoT data-storage infrastructure supplied by Cloudian. Jon Toor, the technology company’s CMO, says the data is available as the buses move around their route, based on a long-term evolution (LTE) cellular connection, and is hosted on Cloudian’s server.

“This is a cloud-derived technology,” Toor says, “that we’re using in the city’s data center.” The technology ensures the video flows reliably from a moving object to a data center, he adds, and storing data with embedded metadata allows users to easily index and find information. Initially, however, the project began with simply trying to capture data from on-bus video cameras in real time, rather than after a vehicle was returned to its garage at the end of the day.

Montebello is a Los Angeles County city that serves eight million bus passengers annually. Tsuen wanted to deploy a system that would help the city to address accidents, issue incident reports and protect it from litigations when possible. The city sought instant access to video, whether in real time or historically. “What we’re trying to do is reshape security,” he states, by capturing data in real time and enabling the sharing of information with other agencies or communities. “There was a huge learning curve,” he adds, and the solution required four years of research, testing and development.

The agency faced several challenges, and so the project was developed in multiple phases. “Solving the problem of how to get data from one location to another took two and a half years, alone,” Tsuen recalls. The city met with a variety of technology companies, but it found few that were able to provide a solution that could offer the constant streaming of that much data from a moving bus. “Along the way,” he says, “we realized we would need a lot of storage, on top of collecting videos and data.” Tsuen says he wanted to add the intelligence of sensor data to create an intelligent security system.

Existing video surveillance systems in many cities fall far short of that goal, Tsuen notes. “Who sits down and looks at 20 monitors [in real time]?” he points out. Stream IT found a way to collect the data, and to help users easily find information in the system and to notify security personnel of potential issues even if they are away from their desk. Additionally, the city needs to be able to add more data storage as new sensors or cameras are deployed to increase the system’s intelligence.

Jon Toor

Since no technology solutions were readily available, Tsuen says, the city’s IT department began building its own system as a solution to security issues. He approached Stream IT, which helped him develop the software, using an IoT-based data-management system from Cloudian. The city started by installing 10 Mobotix cameras on one bus, then eventually added the technology to all vehicles. To get data from buses to the data center in real time, Cloudian and Stream IT provided an application programing interface (API) and an LTE connection to forward the information to the Cloudian server. Stream IT supplied the infrastructure and smart management software that not only facilitates video capture, but also allows users to search and replay video using data analytics.

Montebello wanted to access recorded video based on a given time or GPS-based location, and to be able to link other relevant data to the video recording, such as a vehicle’s speed and brake application, as well as weather conditions, in order to gain greater context around an incident. Cloudian’s software platform, therefore, captures both video footage and metadata that links video clips to a specific bus’s ID number, as well as to GPS data, the date and time, and related conditions.

When an individual makes a claim—for instance, if he or she has slipped and fallen inside a bus at a specific time, on a particular route or in a certain part of the city—the system enables the city’s security officers to search footage based on that information. The city can thus identify on which bus the reported incident occurred, and then view the relevant recording. That data can help the city to make its case when accidents are reported, and to defend itself in the event that charges prove to be fraudulent. “You can’t argue with data,” Tsuen points out.

The city also monitors who is driving a bus at the time of such an incident, based on a contactless access-control card that each operator uses upon opening the bus door at the beginning of his or her shift. The unique ID number on the driver’s badge is linked to data collected from that bus.

The system can issue alerts based on the data collected. For instance, if a loud noise is detected on a bus, or if someone tries to disturb one of the sensors or cameras, a message is sent to authorized parties. The driver has a panic button that transmits a signal to Stream IT management software, which can also prompt an alert. Officials who are notified can then view and hear what it taking place on that bus.

Because some of the cameras face away from the bus, activity around that vehicle can be collected as well. This information has proven useful for city law enforcement, Tsuen reports. The system also enables Montebello to accomplish a variety of historical analyses. For instance, an impact sensor linked to GPS enables the city to map its potholes for its streets department.

Now that the footage is being captured in and around the buses, the next phase will be to equip 32 bus stops with fixed, LTE-based cameras. Tsuen says he hopes the bus stops will be fully live with access to cameras recording at those sites by October of this year, adding, “We want to go full-force on this”

Future developments could include integrating artificial intelligence and facial detection into the system. In that way, Montebello could count travelers at specific locations and better route buses accordingly, such as adding vehicles to a crowded route, or better serving a crowded bus stop. The city could also share this data and the solution with other communities across the United States. “This is revolutionizing the world of surveillance,” Toor states.