Florida East Coast (FEC) Railway and CSX earlier this month participated in a demonstration of autonomous drone flight technology with VisioStack, Inc., a Greenville, S.C.-based developer of condition monitoring, data analytics and decision support systems. The aim of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA)-sponsored research: “developing technology to enable safe and effective drone flights for railroad track inspection and other rail safety purposes,” VisioStack reported June 20.
The drone demonstration used “automated machine vision technology to detect the track and navigate the drone’s flight path over the track within tight tolerances, without using GPS information or pilot input,” VisioStack said. “The first test consisted of multiple out-and-back flight paths and covered a distance of 4.7 miles at a speed of 22.4 mph. The test navigated over single main track, multiple switches and a road crossing. During the second test, the drone flew for 4.0 miles over several switches, multiple road crossings, power lines, single main track, double main track and a bridge. The drone flew at an altitude of 85 feet during both tests.”
Following the tests, David Wenrich, FEC Director of MOW Technologies, reported: “FEC is grateful for partners like VisioStack as we seek to implement new technology that improves the safety, efficiency and capacity of our network. Following this safe and successful test, we’re excited to continue exploring drone applications to monitor our network. …”
“Emerging technologies like these have the potential to significantly add to the safety of our rails by providing additional track monitoring avenues,” added Elvis Higgins, Technical Director of Engineering Innovation for CSX, which has been working with VisioStack since 2018 to use advanced analytics and autonomous data collection systems in maintenance-of-way tasks. “It was exciting to see a successful test and we look forward to participating with VisioStack on additional testing and applications.”
In a related development, FRA in 2020 awarded VisioStack Phase I and II SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) grants for two projects tasked with improving traffic and pedestrian safety at highway-rail grade crossings.