Earlier this year, the principal of a private school in Bengaluru was faced with a sticky situation when parents of a student turned up at her office and claimed that their daughter had been molested in the school bus.
The female attendant who accompanied children in the bus tried to say this was not true but the parents refused to believe it, as their daughter was crying nonstop, complaining of stomach pain. The issue could have taken a really bitter shape, with sensitivity towards crime against children at an all-time-high in the city. However, the truth came to light thanks to a live-streaming camera that was fixed in the school’s bus and helped the principal get to the details.
As schools raise their guard against child abuse, buses of this particular school (which requested anonymity), along with about 150 others in this city and in Delhi, Chandigarh, Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad, Chennai, Nashik, Indore, Visakhapatnam, and Nagpur are using NorthStar, an integrated child and school bus tracking and monitoring solution.
“Monitoring students’ movement has become imperative and today’s technology is doing its best to come with devices that can help parents heave a sigh of relief. We have been using NorthStar’s tracking and monitoring solution to keep a track of bus movement,” says Dakshayani, principal of city-based Harvest International School. “Each bus is fitted with speed governors and GPS, which allows for constant tracking. The system also helps us to closely monitor the buses, to ensure drivers do not indulge in over-speeding, rash driving or student negligence.”
Bengaluru-based Magnasoft’s platform, NorthStar was founded in 2009. It is the brainchild of Bobbie H Kalra (chief executive officer) and Shyam Ramamurthy (chief technology officer), both having a little over two decades of experience in information technology, and parents of school-going children themselves. Magnasoft is backed by Global Technology Ventures, part of the Coffee Day Group.
Based on the much-talked Internet of Things technology, which enables device-to-device communication without human intervention, NorthStar currently monitors about 120,000 students. It allows parents to track real-time movement of a school bus on a mobile application and get automatic SMS alerts about the expected time of arrival of a bus at the designated stop. It also automatically maintains students’ attendance through radio frequency identification (RFID), sends out alerts on over-speeding or collisions or route violations by drivers, generates reports on fuel consumption, and even develops a driver merit system that automatically rates them on performance.
Additionally, by running analytics on the data gathered by its platform, NorthStar also facilitates disaster prevention and better emergency management. Every school bus using it is under supervision of a command centre monitoring every route and able to respond to an emergency.
The company is also looking to develop wearable devices for children, to further enhance their security.
The schools using NorthStar currently charge parents Rs 70-80 a month, which Kalra says most parents are more than ready to pay.
“With cameras installed in school buses, I think my kids are a lot safer. Not only does it serve as a deterrent for anti-social behavior but ,God forbid, if anything did happen, we can find out who the offender is,” says Sunitha, whose daughter studies in the fifth standard at one of the schools using NorthStar. “The bus tracking service is a pretty accurate and convenient system that keeps me updated on the whereabouts of my kids. If there are any delays, I am notified by SMS, which helps ease the tension.”
NorthStar is among a host of devices launched recently days to address the lack of adequate security at schools. Some other such products for child security include Traqmatix and Ospox, both of which also provide tracking of children and school buses with the use of RFID and GPS.