Positioning vehicles accurately and ensuring their safety is a critical aspect of transportation systems. To achieve this, a variety of sensors and technologies are used.
One technology that has been widely used for positioning vehicles for decades is one we’re all familiar with, GPS. While GPS is promising and has been utilised in rail transportation for many years, it has limitations in terms of signal availability and accuracy, particularly in certain environments.
Combining wireless radio solutions with GPS allows for improved positioning and data transmission—enabling effective train control and safety applications.
In Europe, the development of the European GNSS Navigation Safety Service for Rail (EGNSS-R) is helping to solve issues with relying on GPS:
EGNSS-R is funded by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program. The goal of the project is to assess the feasibility of using EGNSS to provide safety-critical navigation services for the rail sector.
EGNSS is a satellite-based augmentation system that provides enhanced accuracy, integrity, and availability of GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) signals. It is currently used for a variety of applications, including aviation, maritime, and land transport.
The rail sector is interested in using EGNSS for safety-critical applications, such as Automatic Train Protection (ATP).
ATP systems use GNSS signals to determine the position of trains and to prevent collisions. However, GNSS signals can be unreliable in tunnels and other areas with poor satellite reception. EGNSS-R aims to address this issue by providing enhanced integrity and availability of GNSS signals in these areas.
The use of UWB (Ultra-Wideband) sensors helps to further augment GNSS so vehicles can continue to be tracked in difficult terrains like canyons — where satellite coverage is minimal — and even in tunnels, where satellite coverage is non-existent:
With all radio ranging technologies, there are pros and cons. Lauthier highlighted some of them during his presentation:
However, the ultimate goal in vehicle positioning is to eliminate the need for infrastructure deployment entirely and rely solely on onboard sensors.
This approach is enabled by advancements in edge computing and involves equipping vehicles with LIDAR cameras and other advanced technologies to accurately determine their position:
In addition to accurate positioning, condition monitoring and obstacle detection are crucial for maintaining the safety and efficiency of railway systems.
By integrating onboard sensors and systems for these functions, it becomes possible to implement driver assistance features and even automated operations to help prevent situations like collisions with other vehicles, people, animals, or anything else that may find itself in the path of a train.
“In the last 20 years, a lot of intelligence has migrated to the vehicle itself,” explains Lathier. “Having more information on the vehicle makes vehicles more intelligent.”
Accurate vehicle positioning and safety are vital in railway systems and IoT technologies are supporting revolutionary advancements. Improvements to wireless communication combined with trackside and onboard sensors are shaping the future of rail.
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