To see a video of Buster the Bus in action, scroll to the bottom of the page.
By Elizabeth Marie Himchak
A Rancho Bernardo High sophomore and his father have donated their time and talents to fix a prop used to teach students about school bus safety.
Zach D’Souza, 15, and his father, Henry D’Souza, spent countless hours since November fixing Buster the Bus, an animated electronic vehicle that was in disrepair.
Next school year, Poway Unified officials plan to use the remote controlled bus when conducting bus evacuation drills with students from elementary through high school as required by the state, said Brad Kirby, a driver instructor in PUSD’s transportation safety and training department.
He said the bus, originally owned by the California Association of School Transportation Officials Chapter 13, which serves San Diego and Imperial counties, was used throughout the area for school and community events, such as the county fair. It is more than a dozen years old — the exact age is not known — and has not been used for the last several years because it was broken.
Kirby said PUSD officials looked into having the bus fixed, but the cost was too much, as was purchasing a new bus that runs $8,000 to $9,000.
“(The D’Souza family) saved us a lot of money,” Kirby said.
Lisa Barnett, who teaches science and engineering at Rancho Bernardo High School and is the robotics team coach, said last spring the bus driver taking the team to a competition mentioned Buster to her and asked if was something students could fix.
After learning from Zach D’Souza, a robotics team member, that he and his father build remote control airplanes and are building an electric car, Barnett asked if his family would consider seeing what is wrong with Buster and possibly restore the bus.
“It’s cute,” Henry D’Souza said, adding when his son first mentioned Buster he imagined something much smaller. “It’s huge, but adorable.”
Some parts could not be salvaged so the family donated parts or rigged up components from parts they had. For example, the remote control was not fixable, so they modified the bus to work off one they no longer used for model airplanes. They also replaced the motors since the originals were burned out and have it powered through a small, rechargeable car battery. Henry D’Souza estimated they donated around $400 worth of supplies.
Through the project, Zach D’Souza said he learned how to solder, use a lathe and strip wires.
“I knew this would be a good experience for him and valuable to the school,” Henry D’Souza said, who is an electrical engineer and inventor. He has offered to repair the bus in the future, even if his children are no longer at the school.
Zach D’Souza said all the bus’ components were technologically old, so they updated some aspects and if the district wants, the missing cassette player that provided a pre-recorded “voice” for Buster could be replaced with an iPod. If not, the duo fixed the headphone so the operator can stand out of view and “speak” for Buster, answering students’ questions during presentations.
“I was amazed because I did not know if they would be able to fix it,” Barnett said, adding she did not think Buster would ever be fully functional again. “They’ve surpassed my expectations.”