Rise of the machines: Network Rail puts Artificial Intelligence on track
In what may be an immediate retort to recent criticism from the regulators in the UK, Network Rail has emphasised its hi-tech approach to running the railway more efficiently across Great Britain. The infrastructure management agency has also championed British technology innovation by applying native ingenuity to everyday operations.
Bristol-based hi-tech company One Big Circle has been backed by Network Rail to help gather a wide range of data from high-definition video around the railway. Their phone-sized device, mounted to the front of any train, takes footage of our more than 20,000 miles (32,186 kilometres) of track across Britain. Designated Automated Intelligent Video Review, the system is just one example of how so-called machine learning technology is being used to run the railway more efficiently.
Efficiency is an ongoing commitment
Network Rail’s responsibility for the railway includes the safety-critical task of continually monitoring the condition of the lines upon which Britain’s freight and passenger trains run. Finding ways to make that task more efficient is an ongoing commitment for the infrastructure agency. That’s why they have partnered with Bristol Temple Meads based tech company One Big Circle, who have deployed their Automated Intelligent Video Review (AIVR) to gather that sort of real-time critical analysis of the network, and all backed up by high-definition video.
More than just a raw video output, computer algorithms are applied to find patterns in data to predict future outcomes. In other words, One Big Circle’s one big brother endeavours to spot the problem before there is a problem, and alert Network Rail to send in the humans for a preventative maintenance visit. All planned instead of reactive, therefore reducing and maybe even eliminating any disruption.
Preventing the issues that cause delays
“Gathering this information via video means we can capture lots of vital and useful knowledge about the state of our infrastructure, easily and smartly”, said a Network Rail statement. “It means we can keep our workers safer, with fewer people needing to go out to safety-critical areas like track. Ultimately, it helps us look after your railway better by preventing the issues that cause delays or cancellations.”
One Big Circle has been developing their AIVR as a vehicle-borne video system since 2019. They focussed on the rail industry, understanding that AIVR’s capabilities could help meet the challenges faced across the UK network. “Rather than having to trawl through old data which may no longer be relevant, machine learning allows you to dip into a current map of assets and conditions”, claim One Big Circle. “Being able to access current data which gives a snapshot of an event in real-time is incredibly valuable.” The company says the use of machine learning in the rail industry is growing, with “massive potential”.
The Bristol company is also trialling its systems in mainland Europe. It’s hopeful of finding clients around the Continent and eventually globally.
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