5 Onboard Sensors That Could Transform Your Railway

New sensors are finding their way into just about every aspect of railway operations. But how much do you know about them? Here are five super sensors that could soon be transforming your railway.


1. Lidar

What’s that?
Light detection and ranging.

What super sense does lidar have?
Lidar uses an invisible (and safe) laser beam to build up an image – like a laser photograph, but in 3D.

How will it transform my railway
Thales is using lidar in autonomous trains to help them “see” their environment and detect obstacles.

Did you know?
Lidar is super-fast, much faster than conventional video cameras, so it’s ideally suited to high-speed transport applications like rail. Lidar also provides information on depth and distance – something normal cameras can’t do.


2. Radar

What’s that?
Radio detection and ranging.

Isn’t radar normally used for ships and planes?
Yes. But we’re planning to use radar on trains as well.

What super sense does radar have?
Radar uses radio waves to measure the distance and speed of objects.

How will it transform my railway?
Along with lidar, radar will be used by autonomous trains to detect obstacles.

Did you know?
Thales pioneered the development of the magnetron radar as far back as 1936.


3. Infrared camera

What’s that?
An infrared camera is similar to a conventional camera – the big difference is that it can see in the dark. Some can even see through fog.

What super sense does an infrared camera have?
It detects invisible infrared radiation.

How will it transform my railway?
Along with radar, lidar and conventional cameras, infrared cameras are one of the building blocks of computer vision for autonomous trains.

Did you know?
Not all infrared cameras are the same. Some are optimised for night vision, while others are better at seeing through fog. It all depends of the wavelength you’re trying to detect.


4. FBG

What’s that?
Fibre Bragg Grating.

What super sense does FBG have?
It uses light waves to measure strain.

How will it transform my railway?
The principle of Fibre (or Fiber) Bragg Grating is being used by Thales in its new fibre optic axle counter, Lite4ce™.

Did you know?
Lite4ce™ can also be used to monitor the speed, weight and wheel condition of trains. And it’s 100% fibre optic, all the way to the interlocking, saving a fortune in copper cabling.


5. IMU

What does that stand for?
Inertial Measurement Unit.

What super sense does an IMU have?
It detects changes in speed and direction with an extraordinary level of accuracy.

How will IMUs transform my railway?
IMUs are one of the building blocks of future on-board train positioning systems. The combination of satellite positioning and IMUs will make it possible to phase out train detection based on track circuits and axle counters.

Did you know?
Thales’ inertial measurement systems are used on some of the world’s leading aircraft, including the Airbus A350 XWB.