Universal Operator Panel 

Transit Standards Consortium Technical Council


Overview

This proposal is intended to address a common need that exists on all driver-controlled transit vehicles -- i.e. both rubber-tired and steel-wheeled  vehicles -- for a standardized Universal Operator Panel (UOP). A UOP allows a human driver to control and monitor the status of multiple intelligent on-board vehicle subsystems from a single panel. 

Such an approach has many benefits. For example, it frees up space within the driver's immediate work area by reducing duplicated Input/Output functions and devices. It permits sharing of common information that is sometimes now entered multiply on different devices because of lack of systems coordination. It allows vendors to focus on maximizing the benefits of  their devices knowing that their customers have already accepted a standard operator interface. It also greatly simplifies the ability to retrofit and add new devices by eliminating the need for additional new operator interface panels and the resulting clutter and customer resistance.

A first approximation of the description of a UOP would be a single box that consist of  both a graphical/text display and a simple keypad input. Physically, the UOP would be approximately 6 inches high by 4 inches wide by 3 inches deep. Ideally, a single connector would provide both electrical power and the network interface from below to permit easy replacement. 

Some of the vehicle subsystems that potentially benefit from a standard UOP and interface include operator entry of  Vehicle ID/ROUTE/RUN/LINE information, automatic fare collection, radio, automatic vehicle locating and monitoring, customer information systems, and vehicle system health monitoring. In addition, silent alarm and feedback and even limited instant messaging between control centers and drivers may be feasible if a wireless digital link exists between the vehicle and the control center. 

Goals

For a UOP to be truly useful and cost effective, however, it must have a common set of physical dimensions so it can "drop into" a standard opening in transit vehicle consoles. Further, its interfaces should conform to standard, commonly used open communication protocols. While this latter requirement requires vendors to expose their products' network/communications interfaces,  it does not require a vendor to expose the internal contents of its product or otherwise require disclosure of intellectual property rights or other proprietary aspects of its designs. 

A key goal of the UOP project is the definition of common "Form, Fit and Function" (F3) interfaces. This allows a common "drop in UOP module" to be developed for many different transit vehicle types. This in turn is expected to stimulate development by  third party vendors of multi-sourced and commercial-off-the-shelf type products that can be compatible with open, published UOP interfaces. This un-tethers buyers from proprietary protocols and closed designs and  single-sourced vehicle subsystems. 

Vehicle Network Interface

The UOP will communicate with multiple on-board vehicle networked devices via a serial networked interface. Because there are multiple communications network standards in the transit marketplace today, economic forces may dictate more than one network/serial interface option "style" for a UOP. However, even 2 or 3 standard networking option "styles" is preferable to the current industry situation of an uncontrolled proliferation of proprietary interfaces and operator panels.  

Likely candidates for the UOP serial/network interface include ANSI/EIA-485 (i.e. RS-485 such as is specified electrically in SAE J-1708), Controller Area Network (such as is specified by SAE J-1939)  or LonWorks (such as is specified by ANSI/EIA 709.1 and IEEE 1473-L). Other candidates may be appropriate, as well, driven largely and presumably, by market forces.

Status

This initial proposal is based upon requests and information to the TSC Technical Council and is initially intended to stimulate discussion within the transit industry. Peripheral and possibly similar activities are underway both in the rail and rubber-tired transit industry. The author of this proposal welcomes input and participation by all.  To post public comments please post them on the TSC Discussion Page or email tom.sullivan@tsd.org.