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Businessweek Archives

Virtual Buses For Novice Drivers

Bits & Bytes


BUSES MAY SEEM LIKE ancient technology in the age of the Information Superhighway. But at the New Jersey Transportation Dept., the old and the new are merging. The state agency is using multimedia and virtual-reality technologies to help train more than 600 new bus drivers and give 1,000 veteran ones refresher courses. First-time students start off by sitting at lifelike bus consoles and watching computer-driven images on a theater-size projection screen. A computer tracks their reaction times and competency as the drivers try to cope with various scenarios such as icy road conditions.

For the ones who pass that test, a considerably more realistic simulation awaits. Students sit at a mock bus cab and drive, via remote control, a 1/24th-scale model bus moving around a 16-foot by 20-foot diorama cityscape in another room. Through their front and side windows, the students see images received from miniature video cameras in the model bus. Students are required to navigate city streets, avoid obstacles and pedestrians, and park between other buses. The setup is realistic enough, a spokesman says, that some students experience mild motion sickness. The virtual trainer costs $180,000, but N.J. Transit, the first to use such high-tech training tools, says it saves $100,000 a year in training costs. Moreover, the agency plans to rent the system out to other bus lines to get additional income.EDITED BY PAUL M. ENGReturn to top


ALMOST EVERY PC GEARED toward the home-office market now features a fax-and-data modem. That allows home-office workers to receive faxes easily, but sending faxes other than computer- generated documents still requires buying and setting up a separate page scanner. At the Winter Consumer Electronics Show held in Las Vegas Jan. 5-8, Compaq Computer Corp. displayed an elegant solution.

Compaq's approach is to integrate Visoneer Communications Inc.'s PaperPort scanner right into the keyboard. The keyboard, which is just three inches longer than a standard keyboard, will also come with software to organize scanned documents and help the scanner work with the PC's fax modem. Company officials say the device will work with any IBM-compatible PC, including Compaq's popular Presario line. Pricing and availability haven't yet been decided.EDITED BY PAUL M. ENGReturn to top


SENDING REAL-TIME VIDEO and audio over a network to PCs has been an impossible dream. The big problem: Digital video and audio data must be sent in a continuous stream or it looks and sounds choppy. That usually means installing expensive high-speed networks that can handle the flood of data. But Precept Software Inc.--the new company of wife-and-husband entrepreneurs Judy Estrin and Bill Carrico, founders of Bridge Communications & Network Computing Devices--may have an answer.

On Jan. 22, the Cupertino (Calif.) company plans to announce two software products, FlashWare and IP/TV, aimed at delivering multimedia over the Internet and any corporate network. They skirt the need for a high-speed network by compressing the data and delivering it to the PC on time and in the right order. Other companies, such as Xing Technology Corp. and VDOnet Corp., are devising other compression schemes. Final versions of Precept's software should be ready by March.EDITED BY PAUL M. ENGReturn to top

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