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€7 billion digital vision

With a string of major tech acquisitions under its belt, Thales Group has devoted nearly €7 billion to expanding its digital technology portfolio over the past four years. We talk to Amaury Jourdan, Chief Technical Officer for transportation activities, about Thales’ Digital Plan for rail digitalisation and how the Group’s recent acquisitions will benefit rail customers – and accelerate the shift to new technologies, including autonomous trains. 

Q. Can you tell us about Thales’ activities in digital? 

Before we explore what this is all about, let’s look at the needs expressed by our customers. They need first to improve efficiency of operations and increase the performance of their networks, while dramatically reducing infrastructure costs. They also need to keep improving the passenger experience. Above all, they need to maintain the highest levels of safety and security while doing all of this.

These needs are not new. But what is new is the way digital technologies allow them to meet those needs at an accelerated pace. 

That’s why we launched a dedicated plan for digitalisation. We’ve introduced innovations such as smart infrastructure, autonomous trains and data-driven operation control centres. We’re helping to provide connected journeys for passengers and offering new digital services to operators.  Everything has cybersecurity built in to the design. This allows safety-critical systems to benefit from digital technologies, such as the Internet of Things, connectivity, big data and artificial intelligence – all the things we master at Thales. 

Q. What are Thales’ assets in digital?

Being part of the larger Thales Group is a key acceleration factor. Over the past four years, the Group has committed nearly €7 billion to expanding its digital technology portfolio.
We’ve acquired leading-edge technology companies, including two in Silicon Valley. The Group has also created new technology assets within the business itself. This benefits all parts of Thales portfolio, including transport.

Q. How are these assets helping?

Let’s start with Guavus, acquired last year. Guavus is a pioneer in real-time big data processing. One of the things we get from Guavus is a software platform for data analytics – a data lake. Our Digital Platform for rail applications builds on this.

Another recent acquisition is Vormetric, a worldwide specialist in data protection. As with many entities in the Group, we count on their solution to securely store and process passenger data, for instance, data used in our connected journey solution.

We have also acquired Cubris, a leading Driver Advisory System provider for main line customers. This paves the way for autonomous trains. 

The Group is also in the process of acquiring Gemalto subject to regulatory approval. Gemalto has leading expertise in securing the Internet of Things (IoT). Upon closing the deal, their inputs will undoubtedly facilitate the rollout of smart infrastructure that is Cybersecured by Design.

Q. What about assets within the Thales Group itself?

We are leveraging expertise from our other businesses in satellite-based navigation, advanced imaging and wireless communications, to pioneer autonomous trains. 
We’re also developing cutting-edge research and technology assets. An example is cortAIx, a new global hub for artificial intelligence (AI) led by Thales in Montreal. This is helping us to introduce AI in rail systems, dramatically changing the game for sensor performance, robotic driving and automated operations with a high degree of safety built in to the design. 

Incubating new ideas and new talent is equally important. That’s why Thales has created the Digital Factory dedicated to developing digital products, with 150 experts – and growing! We also have a cybersecurity incubator, Station F, from which we already use solutions from two promising start-ups for digital services.

Leveraging assets from the new Digital Business Unit both transforms the scope of what we can offer our customers, opening minds, and increases the speed at which we can deliver those new solutions. 

But most important of all, thanks to the breadth of competences we tap into, we can do things for our customers that no one else can. And that makes us unique in the rail market.