This blog was guest authored by Sean Curtis, Director, Technology Experiences with Cisco.
With over 3,000 attendees distributed across nearly 20 hotels in Miami, Florida for Cisco Partner Summit 2023, transportation was a challenge. The logistics of getting our top partners and Cisco leaders to the Miami Beach Convention Center required thoughtful planning. After all, we needed attendees focused on collaborating and learning, not wondering if a bus was on its way. That’s why we asked TechX, the team responsible for deploying our event technologies along with Cisco solutions, to partner with us to help attendees save travel time and have a frictionless transportation experience. Our solve? Piloting a new bus tracking application that combined Cisco IoT solutions with the attendee mobile app.
This year’s Partner Summit theme was Greater Together, and the collaboration between engineering and our partners perfectly reflected that spirit. When we challenged TechX to solve for bus tracking, they immediately connected with the IoT Engineering team to use our own solution, the IR-1835 router.
These routers are perfect for mass transit applications, with the ability to operate in harsh environments and offering features like dual 5G backhaul, multiple wired ports with PoE, Wi-Fi 6, native CAN bus interface, serial ports, and the ability to run custom applications. And, of course, as an IOS-XE based router, security is at the forefront. We utilized a custom application running on the router, which updated the router’s location every 11 seconds via its built-in GPS and reported it to the cloud. In addition to acquiring the location data from the buses, these industrial routers connect securely to a cellular network and provide event Wi-Fi on the buses.
Importantly, the team needed a user interface to show bus locations across four different routes, the estimated pick-up time at a defined location, and the estimated arrival time at their destination. This drove complexity, and our partner NterOne stepped in to help develop the software that simplified things with an application they call Tracktastic. “We have been working with Cisco on big projects for over 16 years,” said Brandon Yohn, Chairman and Managing Partner with NterOne. “Collaborating with Cisco IoT and the Global Events Team to create a modular and programmable end-to-end solution that solves fleet visibility challenges and creates opportunities to enhance observability, usability, and address key business outcomes is Traktastic’s mission. Traktastic will address increasingly necessary market needs for business stakeholders, parents, consumers, service/fleet managers, and operators/administrators paving the way for increased safety, interoperability, and efficiency around remote monitoring and management of mobile assets.”
Pilot for Success
For projects such as this, there is no substitute for piloting and thorough testing. The real world tends to present challenges that are not seen in lab environments. For one, we needed to make sure that the cellular coverage along the actual route is sufficient to provide a good user experience. It was also important for us to test the Wi-Fi performance at the front of the bus and the back of the bus to ensure that signal propagation was adequate. We needed to do this across various bus models because not all our buses were the same. Along these lines, the powering mechanism was different on each bus, as well. In a permanent installation, we would normally wire directly into a vehicle’s power system. But, for the Partner Summit, we were doing temporary installations, and first attempted to power the routers via the 12V accessory receptacle (ie. cigarette lighter receptacle). Through the course of the testing, we found that powering via the 12V accessory power receptacle was problematic because the plug would often vibrate out of the receptacle.
So, after the first day, we modified our approach by using AC plugs wherever possible, though some buses did not have an AC power option. In addition to things happening within the bus, we were able to gather data on the bus tracking application from a user perspective so that we can iterate and improve upon it. For instance, we were able to look at the estimated time of arrival of the bus versus the actual arrival, and we were able to compare the reported bus location with the actual location. We also had an opportunity to see how an unfamiliar user could navigate the application; this was important because a new user would see things differently compared to those of us that had been working on the project for several months.
This successful pilot provided the team with a great opportunity to test technology in the field and continue to innovate and refine the user experience. And this is just scratching the surface of what’s possible with Cisco industrial routers. The TechX team has plans to develop this solution further and enable features like seat capacity using Meraki Cameras and integration with the vehicle CAN bus / OBD ports to provide rich data about the bus fleet. We want to ensure we have a robust solution prior to going live for our attendees at future events. All in all, this was a great chance for TechX to do that while using Cisco solutions, partnering with IoT Engineering, and a great Cisco Partner in NterOne. I call that a win-win!