6 trends driving edge AI in railway transportation

People need efficient and reliable ways to commute to work, keep appointments, shop, and get any other place they need to go. However, the growing global population and more people living, working, and doing business in urban areas are creating traffic congestion that’s nearly impossible to navigate and causing untold damage to the environment. Passenger railway service is a practical solution to the problem of people moving.  

However, six trends are shaping a new future for the industry and driving artificial intelligence (AI) at the edge adoption to advance railway digitalization.  

1.  Increased competition  

Competition is creating pressure in the rail industry in two important ways.  

With so many options for travel available – airlines, bus lines, taxis, and peer-to-peer services such as Uber – railways must work to provide the reliability, convenience, and cost-effectiveness to win the passenger’s choice.  

Competitive pressure is also growing for rolling stock original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) due to high-profile mergers and acquisitions (M&As) completed in recent years. For example, Japanese multinational Hitachi Rail acquired Italian rail transportation provider Ansaldo STS in 2019. French railway company Alstom acquired Bombardier Transportation in 2021, expanding its commercial reach to the UK, Germany, Nordics, China, and North America. Consolidation means that rolling stock OEMs have fewer potential customers, therefore OEMs facing greater competition are working hard to raise the bar to provide trains at the best price and with the most innovative features.  

Why Edge AI? 

Edge AI brings compute power closer to where data is generated and used. Edge overcomes bandwidth and latency issues of sending all data to the cloud and enables a system to operate reliably without a continuous network connection. AI at the edge powers railway digitalization, enabling greater competitiveness in the transportation space. Organizations gain real-time decision-making abilities and automation that orchestrates the smooth flow of passengers, identifies and mitigates risks, and optimizes energy use to reduce emissions.  

Rolling stock OEMs also benefit from edge AI. This technology enables predictive maintenance for trains, allowing OEMs to provide a valuable service to railways. Edge AI can also help manufacturers improve their bottom lines. McKinsey & Company reports 63% of businesses in a range of industries have seen revenue increases in the business units where they adopted AI, and nearly half of all companies leveraging AI have reduced their costs. By improving their financial positions, OEMs will have greater freedom to innovate – and compete.  

2. Rebuilding after COVID-19 

As 2020 began, the future of passenger railways was promising. Railways were in the process of constructing more than 11,000 kilometers of high-speed rail lines around the world. Statista reports global rail passenger traffic grew from 3076 billion passenger-kilometers in 2018 to 3835 billion in 2019. However, the COVID-19 pandemic sharply decreased ridership, which fell 70% in the U.S. and 77% in the U.K. in 2020 as two examples. 

To fulfill predictions that industry growth will rebound by 2023, railways will have to rebuild consumer trust.  

Edge AI solutions: 

Edge AI gives eyes to a railway station, monitoring for compliance with facial mask and social distancing guidelines as well as any other potentially harmful behavior. AI at the edge can also identify areas that require cleaning – and even power robots that can disinfect areas of a station or trains, so humans don’t have to put themselves at risk. Additionally, edge AI can power better passenger communication systems within the digitalized railway that inform passengers of any health risks and provide them with the information they need to stay safe.  

3. More demanding customers  

Passengers expect the highest level of service. Railways need to operate on time and provide their customers with easy access to accurate information and visibility into arrival status or delays. They also need to keep pace with digitalization in other consumer-facing industries to provide modern service delivery.  

Edge AI solutions: 

AI-powered technologies, such as chatbots and automated call centers, can help customers find the answers to their questions more quickly. AI vision systems can continuously monitor passenger cars for capacity and help people quickly find a seat. AI at the edge can also automate fare collection, speeding the process for passengers and eliminating fraud for the railway.   

4. The need for big computing power in small spaces 

Edge AI requires substantial computing power, but space on a train is limited. With GPU trending toward increased power and decreased size of form factors, railways have options for onboard computing power they never had before.  

Edge AI solutions: 

With practical options such as ADLINK’s GPU solutions, railways can build enough processing power to run a variety of AI workloads at a pace that keeps up with real-time demands. GPU-powered systems, for example, ADLINK’s AVA-5500 video analytics platform can “watch” the rails via a front-facing camera to detect hazards and trigger an immediate response when necessary to keep passengers safe. Systems leveraging GPU processing power can also replace manual inspections with continuous monitoring, saving time and money, avoiding downtime and delays, and enhancing safety.  

5. Distributed computing throughout a rail network   

Railways cover thousands of kilometers, but distance can’t interfere with real-time data sharing vital to staying on schedule, operating cost-effectively, and offering transportation services competitively. Multi-access edge computing (MEC) facilitates real-time analytics at the edge to power AI applications, and data distribution service (DDS) enables communications between embedded systems, allowing data to flow freely between systems, equipment, processes, and people. 

Edge AI solutions: 

Muti-access edge computing (MEC) series 5G edge servers from ADLINK can be used to build private 5G networks for railway and enable rail MEC and AI applications. 5G has  the potential to innovate the railway industry by enabling higher communication speeds, low latency, less reliance on wireless network providers, and greater security. New 5G networks have the power to advance railway digitalization with improved infrastructure monitoring and greater sustainability in railway operations, optimizing power generation to meet demand,and minimizing greenhouse gases.  

6. Leveraging data for smoother operations  

Structured and unstructured big data flow from Internet of Things (IoT) devices, smartphones, servers, cameras, databases, and more – and representing the vast potential for railways to improve their operations, customer satisfaction, and the bottom line.  

Edge AI solutions: 

AI-powered systems can analyze the massive volumes of data generated by an IoT system, including information about rolling stock operational status, asset location and utilization, employee allocation – even customer feedback via mobile app.  

AI analytics of IoT data can also benefit railway supply chain partners and other connected industries with the information they need to make smart purchasing and shipping decisions. IoT devices can provide real-time visibility into stock on hand and notify purchasing – or a supplier directly – when items are running low. That visibility can also help suppliers purchase materials, plan production and schedule shipments in the most cost-effective way to deliver items on time.  

Get on Track to More Efficient and Competitive Operations  

Current trends in the railway industry are creating challenges. However, it’s smarter to take a different perspective and view them as opportunities to advance railway operations toward a new level of efficiency, customer satisfaction, and competitiveness.  

Contact us to learn more about the benefits of ADLINK edge AI solutions designed for railway industry innovation.  

Christian Marez
Christian Marez

Business Development Manager – Transportation and Defense, ADLINK Technology

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