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New system uses drones to monitor railroads

Innovation at UC3M Science Park

Universidad Carlos III de Madrid

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Credit: UC3M

The goal of this new development, presented at the ninth Conference on Railway Innovation, is to be able to recognize the good condition of train track elements in images taken by drones. The drones fly over the railroad corridor by means of new image recognition software created by SigmaRail in collaboration with the research group at the UC3M Intelligent Systems Laboratory.

Afterwards this information is integrated in SigmaQ, a platform that permits accessing the digitalized corridor. "It is like a kind of Google Maps for railroads that allows the geolocation of trains on the tracks," said Mario Fernández Marín, one of the founders of SigmaRail. "For a train that travels at 300 kilometers an hour, it is very important to know whether a signal, a sign or a curve is 15 meters ahead or behind," he added. This system also detects possible incidences or obstructions on the tracks.

To be able to recognize the elements installed in the railroad corridor, it is necessary to manage a large quantity of information. For example, according to the company, a 20-minute flight for each drone entails 2 GB of data. If we consider that each unmanned drone operates for six hours a day, terabytes of data are generated every week. This is why processes that streamline and reduce costs are required. "The definition and refinement of our algorithm of image recognition permits automation of all these processes," said Norberto González Díaz, another of the founders of SigmaRail.

This automation translates into a saving on costs and an increase in safety, for both users and workers. For example, workers will no longer need to access the railroad corridor to check the condition of the tracks, because the software would detect any modification.

This company was founded by three Spanish engineers who work abroad: one in Australia, one in Ivory Coast and one in England. "We decided to come to Spain to set up this project because we think it has a lot of potential," said a company spokesperson. In fact, they have already collaborated with multinational companies, and the company is the first to fly over the railroad corridor in Spain, thanks to a project with ADIF--Administrador de Infraestructuras Ferroviarias (Administrator of Railroad Infrastructures).

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SigmaRail participates in the ESA BIC Autonomous Region of Madrid-UC3M Node program, a company incubator project of the European Space Agency managed in Madrid by the madri+d Foundation with the support of the regional government. Its objective is to facilitate incentives for business projects and startups that use space technologies or develop applications based on the same to create new products and services. The Company Incubator of the UC3M Science Park is one of the four nodes that comprise the ESA BIC Autonomous Region of Madrid.

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