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Digitalisation meets railway in practice

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Sebastian Haid, Sensonic Product Owner in Train Tracking, looks back on the excursion with HPI at SRCC. Collaborations like this are key to solving the challenges of digital transformation in the rail industry.

The Digital Rail Campus in Saxony, Germany, is establishing itself as a meeting place for representatives of innovative companies and research institutions. Here, various approaches that open up the full potential of digitalisation to the railway industry are tested in the field. For Sensonic, the campus also offers optimal opportunities to exchange ideas with other stakeholders who are driving this movement in the industry. 

Digital solutions are not a one-way ticket

Test facilities like those in Annaberg-Buchholz, Scheibenberg and the surrounding routes enable active collaboration between different stakeholders. Sebastian Haid, Product Owner Train Tracking at Sensonic, says: "It is important to understand that the development of such solutions is not a one-way ticket. Just as we need to understand the requirements of the railways and their customers, the rail industry needs to recognise and understand the challenges that digital technologies bring with them. Our solution, for example, generates a digital twin from acquired data – in other words, a highly accurate, digital image of all vibrations occurring along the physical infrastructure. These are updated with each subsequent train crossing. Furthermore, intelligent algorithms extract information about spontaneous defects, such as rail breaks, or long-term developments, like changes in the rail head. For its part, the railway industry must learn and consider how this information can be integrated into operations in the best possible way. The Digital Rail Campus is a perfect place to sharpen this mutual understanding. Here we can directly test completely new approaches. Together with the operators, we then evaluate and optimise these ideas. In addition, research institutes from technical universities are involved, which results in an incredibly rich pool of knowledge from which everyone benefits."

Networking in action: rail meets research

What this networking looks like in practice was recently demonstrated in the run of an excursion organised by the Hasso Plattner Institute (HPI). On 23 and 24 June 2021, students from various universities from all over Germany met in the lecture hall of the Digital Rail Summer School (DRSS) in Jöhstadt. The facility is also part of the Digital Rail Campus. The event kicked off with a lecture on the topic of Fiber Optic Sensing (FOS) and the possibilities this technology provides a digital railway industry with.

Experience real-time monitoring on the track

In the afternoon, the group moved to the test installation in Scheibenberg. There, the participants were able to take a look at Sensonic's facilities at the Digital Railway Test Field. The operating principle of FOS and the application of machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI) methods to analyse the FOS signals were explored, using pre-recorded data. Then the group was off to the track. Equipped with iPads, the participants were able to record signals caused by the group itself during the tour along the track. In two targeted experiments, the acoustic signatures produced when cable troughs are opened and when digging next to the track were recorded. Other signals were caused, for example, by a hi-rail vehicle.

Developing digital solutions together

The data generated during this excursion on the track was subsequently made available to the students by Sensonic. With the basic knowledge of machine learning and data science methods, they will now train models and present their results at the final event of DRSS 2021 in September in Jöhstadt. Sensonic will take on the role of an expert in this framework and add practical experience to the insights gained. Sebastian Haid emphasized the value of this: "We are looking forward to the insights that the students will gather with their expertise in the field of data science. While this will provide them with a model for testing different approaches, we will receive valuable input that can be incorporated into the ongoing development of our software solution.”

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