How to detect yellow school bus from 100 to 200 yards away?

Is there any type of electronic component that I can use to build something to detect a yellow school bus that is up to 200 yards away? I live on a very straight busy road. From my mailbox I can see about 300 yards down the street before it curves. Is there something out there that would allow me to build a device, mounted to my mailbox post, that will chime a bell in my house when it detects a yellow school bus approaching from at least 100 yards away? Note that I believe it must have the ability to detect color because we also get a lot of big trucks driving by that could set it off if I were detecting by size. Just wondering if this would be possible. Thanks! - John

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Grathio8 years ago
Possible? Maybe, but I doubt it it's practical. You would need something like this:

First some kind of optics (old binoculars or a telescope) that you would aim along the travel path of the bus. Then at the focal point of this you put a color light sensor (like this one) connected to a microncontroller (like the Arduino or PICAXE), and wire it up to your bell or whatever. Then you need to make sure that it's protected from the elements. After you've got all that you'd need to take time to calibrate it. This will be very tricky since it would need detect the yellow of the bus on both sunny and cloudy/rainy/foggy/snowy days. But also not detect the yellow of, for example a truck illuminated by a yellow sunrise, or a tree in the background who's leaves are turning yellow, or a DHL truck.

You could minimize the calibration problems by hooking it into a real-time clock and write a schedule for it so it only looks for a bus it at certain times and days of the week. In addition you could add an ambient light, a moisture sensor and a temperature sensor to check the light and rain/snow levels and adjust the color sensitivity accordingly. Heck, while you're at it, you could put a whole weather station out there, and add a switch to tell you when the mail has gone as well.

Depending on how far away your mail box is from the house, either you'd need to run wires (for power and to ring your bell) or or hook it up via batteries and probably a solar cell and then communicate with the base station in your home with some kind of wireless solution. And hope no one steals it.

Or you can get ready for the bus ahead of time. (But it would be totally cool to see a weather station/bus/mail detector out at the end of someone's driveway.)
siliconghost (author)  Grathio8 years ago
But what fun is practical? Lol. This is exactly what I was looking for. Thanks for taking the time to answer this. See my other comment on getting ready for the bus on time.
vBotics8 years ago
I'm still researching, but most schools have transmitters installed in the busses to tell when they arrive and leave, see if your school has a unidirectional antenna, it's like one of them old UHF ones. Then just find out the frequency and build a receiver. If anyone knows who makes these let me know, I'm going in circles on google.
lemonie8 years ago
A practical solution would be to lay an induction loop on the tarmac and have it calibrated to "big vehicle" - you're not going to get a mailbox mounted device to do this unless you're watching a web-cam (for example). For myself, I go to the bus stop a few minutes before it's due to arrive... L
siliconghost (author)  lemonie8 years ago
Thanks for the answer. The obvious "solution" would be to get the kids out early for the bus. We do that now. The problem is that our bus arrival (and drop off) times are wildly inconsistent. It can vary as much as 20 minutes. In the summer that isn't a big deal. In the winter, the kids are freezing by the time the bus comes. Also, if we're not out by the road when it reaches our house they will not stop, so waiting on the porch or just inside the house is not an option.
Get together with neighbors who have kids, and build a bus-station shelter? (Though I think you may be overprotecting the kids. Yes, they lose heat more rapidly than adults do -- higher surface area to volume ratio -- but they also have higher metabolisms than adults. They may not _like_ the cold, but dressed properly they really can put up with a 20-minute outdoor wait in most climates. Heck, I remember noticing that my hair was freezing and finding that entertaining rather than uncomfortable...))
How is a detector going to give more time than waiting just inside the house, ready to go out when you see the bus coming down the road? The other option is to call the bus company and find out WHY the bus isn't on time.
siliconghost (author)  jtobako8 years ago
jtobako: I don't have 20 min to sit around wondering when the bus is going to come. That's 20 min of time that I can use to finish getting myself ready for work. We also can't see the bus coming down the road unless we are right out at the end of my driveway. I've gone the route of calling the bus company. That seems to work for a short period of time or until they get a new bus driver. This is more for fun than anything else!
Re-design8 years ago
Does your bus have a high intensity strobe light on top, If it does then you might design something that will detect that. It could recognize the intensity and the flash rate. You might even design it so that it only works during a certain time period so you can leave it on all the time and not have to remember to turn it on every morning. Good luck.
siliconghost (author)  Re-design8 years ago
Great idea, but no. Our buses don't have those strobe lights.