The train driver completed his journey to the station and climbed down from the cabin to get a cup of coffee.
Suddenly, the train started on its own to the depot for servicing.
Not to worry; programming of trains to move automatically from station to railway depots is a practice that actually started over 25 years ago, within the metro environment of fully automated operations
The next big stage, the evolution from automatic to truly autonomous trains, is already here. It will take train autonomy to the next level, beyond the automated performance on closed loops such as automatic metro lines today and onto the vast expanse of international railways.
That will mean that the next generation of trains will be able to locate themselves in their environment and interact with other train traffic without human assistance. They will have the ability to detect and manage on their own all elements of their environment, orchestrated by a connected traffic management system.
The transition toward train autonomy is accelerating, says Kai Taylor, Thales Marketing & Communications Director Main Line Rail Signalling, and for a reason for that can be summed up in one word: digitalisation.
“There’s a perfect match between what our experiences in both digital technologies and signalling & train control can bring and what rail operators are seeking: safe, secure and reliable travel for passengers and freight customers, with more efficiency and lower cost.” says Kai Taylor, Thales Marketing & Communications Director Main Line Rail Signalling.
“The key to success”, says Kai Taylor, “is in fact what is in ‘the Thales DNA’--the digital technologies across Thales business units—aerospace, space, transportation, defence and security”.
“These technologies represent the pieces of the puzzle to achieve real train autonomy. They are artificial intelligence, big data, connectivity, including the internet of things linking trains to intelligent railway switches, and with cybersecurity built in. We have sensors for obstacle detection from Thales defence, safe and precise satellite positioning from our space and avionics division, IoT connectivity from our recent acquisition Gemalto, cybersecurity from the Thales security sector and the trusted explainable and approvable artificial intelligence lead by Thales for safe decisions. Taken together, they will provide the train with true autonomy for safe and efficient operations”.
Of course, all these technologies are at the base of the Thales ground and air transportation sector’s current offerings for efficient, safe and reliable travel in the air or on the ground.
Kai Taylor explains, “We’re unique in having the experience and the expertise in all aspects of mobility, including Thales global leadership in air and train management systems which are assuring seamless rail and air travel for airlines and rail operators all over the world.”
Indeed, ARAMIS™ train traffic management systems safely and efficiently guide more than 50,000 trains per day on over 100,000 kilometres of track. And Thales air traffic management assures the safe departure and arrival of one out of every two flights in the world today.
“The ARAMIS™ rail management system”, says Kai Taylor, “is the key to the ‘orchestration’ that Thales can propose to allow for efficient and safe ‘interaction’ among autonomous trains on a rail network, just as it does for current rail traffic management”.
ARAMIS™ automatically sets routes, supervises the infrastructure, visualizes the status of the railway network in real time and optimises resources and calculates forecasts based on actual data.
And, in the train driver’s cabin, Thales’ Driver Advisory System, is providing a continuous flow of synthetic information to enable drivers to make the right decisions en route.
Beyond the clear benefits to rail operators, passengers and freight customers, autonomous trains will bring major benefits to society. That is because more efficient traffic management will mean more trains in congested areas and better services in rural areas. With more than 55 per cent of the world’s population in cities today—and with nearly 70 per cent projected by 2050, solving urban transport issues are critical.
That explains why Thales is already positioning itself for the third stage of autonomous travel---the integration of rail, truck and air transport.
Kai Taylor concludes, “We don’t see any conflict between these forms of passenger and freight transport. What we do see is a vast opportunity to orchestrate and connect all of them to create what will truly be end to end efficient mobility that will benefit all”.