Wifi School Buses

| May 21, 2010

It’s not quite the magic school bus but perhaps a step closer.

This NPR article tells the story of a local Arizona bus driver J.J who drives a bus route that can last up to two and a half hours for some students. This lengthy commute however may not feel so long as this school district has chosen to make the bus wireless enabled. Since November, the high school students have enjoyed this distraction, or study aid, depending on the moment.

“Bus driver J.J. Johnson says high school students in southern Arizona are benefiting from wireless Internet on the bus. With less idle time on the hour long commute, he says, they’re not fighting as much or making nearly as many spit wads as they used to”

It seems the idea is off to a good start having 25 districts sign up to also offer school bus connectivity. “People went from connecting their homes to connecting their handsets. And now they’re moving into the next evolution of connecting things. And vehicles are the next logical step” says Sterling Pratz, the CEO of Autonet, the company that makes the routers for the buses. Additionally, Autonet has now adapted the service for schools by adding filters that prevent kids from accessing adult content.

Further, this feature has caused discussion around those able to have the technology with them to use on the bus. Vanderbilt researchers, such as Julie Hudson feel that it is a surprise the Internet-bus concept didn’t catch on sooner, because wiring buses is not expensive or technically challenging, however the bigger issue is that not every family can afford a laptop for each child. So with this concern and Vanderbilt’s support, Hudson is leading a three-year-old program in rural Arkansas called Aspirnaut. It has connected three school buses to the Internet for about $1,000 each but the program also gives laptops to its students. Hudson says she’s optimistic that eventually laptops will become widespread in the public school system. Which is the way it works for the kids at Empire High School in Arizona. Empire doesn’t use textbooks, and it offers every student a laptop for their studies thus eliminating the issue.

Click here to listen to the story via NPR.