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The Disks on the Bus Go Round and Round: How AngelTrax Is Re-envisioning Safety
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The Disks on the Bus Go Round and Round: How AngelTrax Is Re-envisioning Safety 

Anna England and her two daughters each leave the house at different hours of the morning, but they are all going to versions of the same place: Dothan, Alabama City Schools, by way of a giant, yellow bus. This has been England’s first school year on official route assignment, supervising special needs buses. When England first began at the wheel as a sub, she could find herself alone on buses maxed to capacity.

“On a regular bus, we’ve got 50 to 60 kids on a bus with the bus driver and that’s it. And that’s where the cameras are a blessing,” England said.

Dothan is the seventh-most populous city in Alabama. It’s a safe hour and change inland from the infamous “Floribama Shore,” the kind of place to raise a family and not a tech empire, but Dothan City School District buses are not your average caravan.

Each bus is decked out in cutting-edge AngelTrax security systems: networks of smart cameras mounted in perfect synchronicity. But AngelTrax’s IP is not a slew of expensive, high-quality cameras. In fact, its innovation is really the opposite: a series of unique, patented algorithms that trigger these cameras to send only the footage worth viewing, at a resolution just high enough to trip the AI. AngelTrax’s software gets the most efficient use of the least possible hardware, while still capturing every angle.

The company is the country’s primary supplier of school bus security systems and have expanded since their 2004 inception into transit and fleet. Richie Howard, CEO and founder of AngelTrax, estimates only two million of the 22 million fleet vehicles on the road today use smart security, a ratio insurance companies are desperate to improve.

AngelTrax is rapidly cornering a segment of a rapidly growing market, and they’re doing it all from Dothan, Alabama, in an office right off Highway 84.

No Small Peanuts

Richie Howard has always had an entrepreneurial spirit. After getting started in electronics in 1982, he spotted an opportunity in mobile security and jumped. “There wasn’t a lot of competition ‘cause it was difficult to do,” he said.

This is the nature of Angeltrax’s specialty, a niche known as “event-based video transfer,” according to Senior Director of Marketing and Product Management for Smart Video at Western Digital, Stefaan Vervaet. “It’s too expensive to send all the video footage, right? So [AngelTrax cameras are] just sending compilations.” Smart security system prices rise with data capacity. To keep costs down, you want the best possible software to maximize the efficiency of your hardware. But it takes lots of data to develop these algorithms and perfect this ratio of AI to cameras, drives, and memory.

AngelTrax has a uniquely rich store of driver data they’ve used to optimize affordable, smart security systems that reduce incidents—but Vervaet would argue that what’s remarkable about the company is how they use this data to reduce the number of events entirely.

“We constantly think about [smart security] as, Oh, it’s keeping us safe. Yeah, that’s correct,” Vervaet said. “But what is necessary to keep us safe? It’s not a simple recording. [AngelTrax is] not recording for the sake of it, they’re actually using the data to improve driver behavior, to improve regulations that are required to be implemented.”

AngelTrax sends incident data in a holistic, actionable report to its safety directors. If a driver has enough incidents, Howard explained, “[The safety directors] end up doing coaching and teaching work, helping that driver become a better driver.”

George Washington Carver put Dothan, Alabama and surrounding Wiregrass County on the map after discovering how to make nitrogen-fixing peanuts a viable cropa way of reinvigorating soil depleted by cotton monocropping.

Carver’s innovation was a process, and one that had to unfold in Wiregrass County. Howard is a whole other genre of inventor, but one equally invested in process, and one whose process is equally invested in Wiregrass County and its people.

Eyes in the Sky

Three years ago, Anna England’s eldest daughter, Abigail, kept coming home in tears. She told England that some girls on the bus were bullying her. England called the Head of Dothan Transportation and asked to see footage.

“Well, it wasn’t 20, 30 minutes later he was already calling and saying, ‘Okay we watched the videos, she is exactly right.’” With the evidence in hand, England was able to get the bullies removed from the bus. Dothan parents call AngelTrax “eyes in the sky,” because they see everything.

Howard calls his company AngelTrax because he already had the trademark from a prior creation: a bracelet for children and their caregiver to wear that triggered an alarm in the event of separation. When AngelTrax got started in 2004, Howard figured the name still fit.

“This Is Home”

Dothan holds the National Peanut Festival each year to honor Wiregrass County peanut farmers. Howard and his wife have been known to venture in to procure the festival’s legendary corndog.

All five of Howard’s children and all four of his grandchildren live in Dothan. “This is home,” Howard said.

Perhaps this is why AngelTrax works: it’s not faceless surveillance, but a method of collective accountability from a family man who likes looking at the data. Perhaps this is the process Howard has truly innovated: bringing this sense of home to millions of parents every morning as their children step on the bus and their throats begins to catch, AngelTrax reminds them to breathe.

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