Cover Story: Wireless Revolution

A talking bus? Get up to speed on modern wireless diagnostics.

Because of that custom alert for that specific fault code for that particular cooling system for that precise engine for that unique bus, WMATA’s technicians could pull only those buses that needed their radiators blown clean instead of having to clean every radiator every night.

“So, it’s all about setting up your parameters based on your real-world operations,” Wallace says. “We work hand-in-hand with Clever Devices, as well as the bus OEMs and the sub-component manfacturers—because you’re tying into engines, transmissions, HVAC systems—you work through these issues to filter down and only get the data that’s really legitimate.”


If they wanted to, WMATA could follow the lead of other Clever Devices customers, who use AVM to monitor their bus camera systems, “black box” event data recorders, tire pressure and temperature, brake wear, batteries, and air conditioning systems.

“In the past, you were limited by the amount of bandwidth on the low-speed SAE J1708 network,” says Saporita. “Now there’s more than a 20-fold increase in bandwidth with J1939, you can add more systems. That’s why we introduced the AVM2 product in 2005. It helps transit system authorities spend less time diagnosing problems and more time fixing them.”

And how do the technicians cope with all this new information? Have their skills expanded alongside the network’s bandwidth?

“We’ve got an internal filtering process, and we get an automatic ticket for one of these critical issues, which, quite frankly, is reduced to next to nothing,” Wallace explains. “But every day, the division gets a printout of everything that has come through the service lane. Our lead people—our senior assistant shop foremen—they’ll review this data, and they’ll also review the history against this data, and they’ll schedule work accordingly. And that’s given to the technician on the floor, so we can do trend analysis and things like that. So, we filter the process so it really isn’t overwhelming to the technicians or the lead people.”


Once you start to build of a database on the performance and operation of your vehicles, a funny thing happens: You get a much better idea how to spec’ your new vehicles.

“AMV is not just a good day-to-day preventive maintenance tool, it gives you a vast array of data that you can go in and look at, and get real world information,” Wallace says. “You can see, when you build your bus spec’, how many cycles does a door actually see in our environment? Now you can make sure you’ve built a robust enough system, based on real world data.”

Compliance issues are also less complicated in light of the data Wallace has at his fingertips. For example, drivers are required to cycle their wheelchair lifts before they leave the division, and now the division superintendent can run a daily report on all the buses that went through the required wheelchair lift cycle, and check it against the operators who were assigned to the buses.

“I come in here every morning and I get a series of five e-mails, one from each location, and I get a little snapshot of what’s going on at each location,” says Wallace.

Want more? Because of AVM, Wallace says that WMATA is now saving millions of dollars in warranty claims. When a newly-delivered sub-fleet of buses exhibited a problem with dragging brakes, for example, data collected by AVM revealed an engineering flaw that could be traced back to the axle assembly manufacturer.

“The camshafts used in the rear brakes were not the proper camshafts,” Wallace explains. “Long story short, the manufacturer had to come in here on their own dime and reline the brakes on 250 buses.”


The lifespan of a WMATA bus is 15 years, higher than the industry average of 12 years. With AMV, Wallace hopes that those 15 years will be trouble-free.

One way he can make sure that happens is to use AMV to check the build quality of new buses as they come off the assembly line.

“Now when we buy new buses, we bring a laptop along on the plant inspection,” Wallace says. “In our upcoming procurements, we use AVM onboard as part of the process.”

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