Kinetic Mesh Networks Improve Mass Transit Communications

Oct. 21, 2015
Designed for dynamic environments, this technology will propel the mass transit industry forward

If Sir Isaac Newton were alive today, he might posit a new law for today’s transportation industry – an object in motion is difficult to track. The mass transit industry is born from, and fed by, motion. And there are many advantages to tracking the vehicles within it. However, until recently, the technology that facilitated communications across these networks was rudimentary at best. Traditional private wireless networks, one of the preferred communication methods, often fell victim to signal interrupters such as tunnels, and were not ideal for rugged, mobile environments.

Historically, transportation agencies struggled to achieve an effective level of broadband reach and connectivity. They encountered all manner of transmission problems, including interference and difficulty in offloading or backhauling data from vehicles.

Kinetic mesh private wireless networks have changed all of that. They are equipped with technology that makes them a “living network” of sorts. Nodes communicate with each other rather than relying on a single controller node to drive communication. In this way, they provide mesh stability and flexibility regardless of the environment. As a result, living networks are very adaptable, and offer a distinct advantage over networks that restrict transmissions to controller nodes. The latter type of network is vulnerable to downtime from major disruptions.

Kinetic mesh private wireless networks, on the other hand, possess the flexibility to transmit and receive data through a myriad of connectivity solutions, including LTE, satellite, point-to-point wireless or wired networks. They are not limited by a single point of failure. This allows the network to rebuild and “heal” itself based on available wireless nodes.

This is one reason why kinetic mesh networks thrive when applied to systems with moving parts, so to speak. They are well-established in industries such as military, mining, and oil and gas. They also have demonstrated success when deployed on commercial freight trains and are a natural fit for their next venture, mass transit.

Superior Communication Skills

Scalability and mobility are primary attributes of a mesh network. Designing each node to serve as infrastructure enables all devices and the network itself to be mobile. Users can employ nodes on all manner of vehicles, including trucks, buses and trains. In addition, these networks can transmit significant amounts of data – 100 Megabits or more. The mobile nature of the nodes also enables the aforementioned living network capabilities, giving it the critical ability to re-establish itself.

Kinetic mesh technology holds up against challenges better than traditional private wireless networks because it was created for rugged environments. It emerged as a result of 9/11 and the tragic results that ensued, including the failure of the communications infrastructure that fateful day. The robust technology enables people and organizations to deploy networks into places where communications infrastructure have lacked in reliability, or to quickly move networks into places where they never existed. In other words, users can deploy communications infrastructure in real-time.

Given its origins, a well-designed mesh network should never see any disruption of service. Distance can present limitations in a mass transit system, but as long as each node can communicate with another node, the network will preserve its integrity. When designing mesh networks for mass transit, it is imperative that technical staff account for variables unique to their industry, such as tunnels, subways, train dimensions, node-to-antenna ratios, and size of antennas.

Vehicles in a mass transit system outfitted with kinetic mesh can maintain a nearly steady stream of communication with operations centers, aiding in applications such as arrival time tracking. The transit authority can monitor each vehicle’s location, and vehicles can communicate their locations to tracking apps.

Kinetic mesh enables radio technology transmission between trains and the wayside to facilitate Communication Based Train Control (CBTC). Passenger trains that use Wi-Fi are interested in the highest bandwidth possible. Transmitters on trains roam between the vehicle and wayside points. This equates to zero data loss onboard the train. The nodes located on the trains communicate with all wayside nodes they can see, connecting and passing data between them all, so that when they do drop a wayside connection, there is no disruption. As a result, where most technologies have roaming times well above 50 milliseconds, a kinetic mesh network does not have to roam, as it is always connected and passes data between multiple nodes all the time.

Protecting Precious Cargo

Kinetic mesh plays a pivotal role in promoting passenger and pedestrian safety. Part of this entails keeping track of equipment. The network can aggregate data onboard vehicles and send it to the operations center to analyze vehicle state-of-health and other equipment factors. Taking safety precautions a step further, the node onboard each vehicle can monitor situations and alert operators that a valve, seal or motor is overheating well before it does. This can promote a significant drop in catastrophic equipment failures.

Vehicles in a kinetic mesh network also can transmit information to other vehicles in the mass transit system, allowing them to function more efficiently and safely. For example, node sensors on buses can detect the presence of other vehicles in the melee that accompanies many big-city rush hour periods. In this way, they can help prevent crashes.

Mesh networks can even “police” mass transit vehicles by powering data-heavy applications that require the transfer of large files or content streams. Sending video footage from vehicles is one such application. Law enforcement and emergency personnel can make use of the footage, which mesh enables to stream in real-time, to respond and follow up on incidents. The technology contributes to evidentiary data viewing as well, by facilitating the seamless capture and transition of recorded data without having to physically remove data storage devices. Users also enjoy clearer imaging, thanks to the ability to store high-definition video in the network’s wireless routers.

It is safe to say that Newton would be impressed with the adaptive, smart, productive and dynamic kinetic mesh networks coming to the fore in the mass transit industry. These living networks will help keep transportation systems up to speed with demands.

Robert Schena is CEO and founder of Rajant Corp., a manufacturer of kinetic mesh technology for private wireless networks.