Dean Transportation trials real-time surveillance with Axis Communications

With nearly 1,500 school buses operating in more than 100 school districts throughout Michigan, security and surveillance is a paramount concern for Dean Transportation.

Dean Transportation, formerly Special Transportation, was established in the early 1950’s by Eric Christensen. Christensen transported individuals affected by polio to Lansing, MI, area schools throughout the 1950’s and the early 1960’s. In 1969, Special Transportation was incorporated by Lyle L. Stephens, a former Michigan State Police Motor Carrier Lieutenant and a leader in passenger safety. Kellie Dean joined the company in 1986, and Special Transportation became Dean Transportation in 1991.

“We’re family-owned and operated, doing business against multi-national conglomerates with tens of thousands of vehicles,” said Christopher Dean, son of Kellie Dean and business intelligence and analytics coordinator of Dean Transportation “We’re proud of the personal service we provide our customers.”

Dean Transportation constantly monitors new developments with regards to site surveillance and on-board vehicle technologies. In an effort to learn more about new advancements with these technologies, Dean started to research and learn about systems with real-time on-board surveillance capabilities, system status dashboards, and open development platforms.

“We transport more than 60,000 students daily, so having to physically touch a camera’s hard-drive in order to review footage is becoming more and more difficult,” Dean says. “In case of emergency, we may need to see what’s happening in real-time and we need to know that our systems are functioning properly.”

Dean Transportation began making inroads with Arete Technology, located in nearby Grand Rapids. Arete’s expertise is in cellular technology, internet services, asset management and video technology.

Through an on-site consultation, Arete conducted an analysis of Dean Transportation’s requirements.

“Dean Transportation needed IP (Internet Protocol) cameras rated specifically for vehicles,” said Mitch Kimball, founder of Arete Technology. “Furthermore, we needed to ensure that they received cameras which would display the high-resolution video and audio they required, paired with our cellular connectivity to exchange all of that information.”

Kimball said the obvious choice for Dean Transportation was Axis Communications, a manufacturer of network cameras, video encoders and video management software with a specialization in transportation.

Axis is a world-leading provider of network video solutions for professional installations, and the company invented the original IP camera in 1996.

“Arete explained their relationship with Dean Transportation, and we showed them what we can offer in terms of onboard video,” said E. Anthony Incorvati, business development, transportation at Axis Communications. “It resonated well, because of the Arete team’s communications & cellular background, so they proposed our system to Dean.”

Trialing the Axis system

Arete Technology and Axis Communications proposed upgrading all of Dean Transportation’s on-site security with Axis cameras. As part of that, the three companies embarked on a product trial on five school buses and one motorcoach.

Dean said he was immediately cognizant of the scope and expertise of the Axis organization.

“Before connecting with them on this trial, I did not know much at all about Axis Communications,” he said. “As I learned more about them, I realized they are a major player in the site-security industry.”

“We always want to do our due diligence and make sure we’re utilizing the best technology available,” he continued. “We’re always analyzing our operations to make sure we’re using technology to the best of our ability. We saw Axis’s advancements in hardware and software and thought, ‘How can we use this to increase the safety onboard our vehicles and at our facilities?’”

Axis manufactures purpose-built IP cameras for onboard environments, drawing from experience all the way back to its first IP camera.

“I like to call IP cameras ‘computers with lenses’,” Incorvati said. “The CPU processing power of IP cameras has grown over the years, in the same way any computer’s power has grown since the technology’s inception.”

That increased processing power, Incorvati said, has enabled several advancements in video surveillance – increased image quality, better performance in low-light, back-light and blinding-light conditions, to name a few – but none more important than the advent of open architecture in video surveillance.

Open architecture refers to an open platform in which Axis calls theirs the Axis Camera Application Platform (ACAP). With this open platform, the camera essentially becomes the server that can support and run in-camera applications.  With Axis, as Incorvati put it, it means “we create an open and easy platform that allows for third-party application developers to create “apps”  which run on the camera…almost like how apps would run on your smartphone”

For this Field Test, Arete led an implementation that included Axis cameras and a software platform called Observit C3 (Camera Connected Cluster). This trial represented North America’s first deployment of the Observit platform.  Observit is a long-time Axis Application Development Partner that has always specialized in the onboard video management environment.  However, and more recently, Observit have taken their NVR/server-based software approach and has developed C3 – which is an in-camera, server-less and cloud-based approach to onboard video.  Traditionally, any onboard camera system had to be coupled with a network video recorder (NVR) which housed its video management software. Observit’s system is housed directly on the camera, allowing for cloud-based information exchanges, and it utilizes the camera edge storage and removes the requirement for an onboard NVR. The evaluation of the system included playback of recorded video, real-time video and audio.

“Implementing a server-less system means less points of failure and ease of installation and management, which all increases the system’s reliability and total cost of ownership as a whole,” Incorvati said. “Furthermore, the Observit system allows Dean Transportation to live view and pull video remotely from any browser, without needing to physically touch a recorder or having to wait until the bus reaches a Wi-Fi connection in the Barn or Depot.”

In addition to being cloud-based, the Axis cameras allow for diagnostic alerts on any technological element, including image sensors, microphones or SD cards.

Dean said he is most impressed by the breadth of knowledge Axis Communications has regarding different cameras, sensors, and where they can be most effective.

“As we looked at different cameras for our buses and facilities, the representatives from Axis were able to lend a lot of expertise,” he said. “Gleaning knowledge and learning from them based on the effectiveness of their product has been extremely useful.”

Dean Transportation found low maintenance and ease-of-use to be the top factors drawing them toward installing more Axis cameras in the future.

“Configuration was incredibly easy because, after configuring one camera system, we were able to transfer those settings immediately,” Dean said. “From a daily perspective, it’s a necessity that when a driver starts a bus in the morning, he or she knows instantly about any system failures or lack thereof.”

In terms of maintenance, Dean said the cloud-based system means much less I.T. work by the company’s maintenance team.

Positive results and moving forward

“Look at how the world of technology is progressing, with cloud-based services and high-definition video,” Incorvati said. “Transportation has historically been more of a late adopter to new technology, but I believe operators like Dean Transportation are breaking down those barriers. The industry’s appetite for adopting new technology is growing.”

With a few tweaks and adjustments, Dean said, the Axis system is well suited for the company’s expansive school transportation business. Furthermore, the company’s current recommendation is to move forward with installing Axis cameras at Dean’s facilities when the time comes to upgrade on-site security capabilities.

“The families and students we transport are the most precious cargo that exists,” he said. “It’s our job to make sure they’re safe, and that our drivers and vehicles are safe. Axis has years of experience in the industry, and we want to leverage that experience and knowledge into a safer experience for everyone who touches our operation.”