Successful completion of an autonomous technology trial at GO Transit could herald the next step in semi-autonomous engineer-assist—or even autonomous—operation in Canada’s typically cold winters.
A consortium of Thales (whose Ground Transportation Systems division is soon to be acquired by Hitachi Rail), Invision AI and Metrolinx has completed an 18-month WinterTech Program trial in Ontario that could result in Canada becoming the first country to introduce advanced engineer-assist and autonomous technologies that can function in all weather conditions. The trial was designed to validate the functionality and reliability of a rail-centric autonomous system that enables situational awareness, safety enhancements and operational benefits in all conditions, with Invision AI emphasizing that the technology can withstand harsh Canadian winters.
Since January 2021, a Metrolinx GO Transit train has been equipped with the system, which successfully operated in shadow mode on several lines emanating from Toronto Union Station, collecting data from various sensors including radars, cameras and LIDAR. This system was powered by cyber-secured 4G/LTE capabilities, and the data was used to train the system to recognize obstacles and other hazards in all weather conditions.
Benefits of introducing the system, consortium noted, include “enhanced safety through the deployment of sensors able to detect and track potential obstacles, rapid installation time due to the minimal equipment footprint, and accurate real-time data collection that is crucial for both maintenance and operations teams. Passengers are expected to benefit through fewer delays, improved safety and enhanced reliability of the rail network. Further upgrades can also be supported through modular design, and the system can also be combined with smart monitoring systems at grade crossings and stations to provide further safety enhancements by enabling beyond-line-of-sight reactions for approaching trains.”
“The team at Invision AI is incredibly excited by the opportunity to develop a high-integrity train situational awareness system together with Thales and Metrolinx,” said Karim Ali, CEO, Invision AI. “We brought together the partners with the software, hardware and operational expertise to build an autonomous rail system capable of withstanding our harsh Canadian winter. We are proud to be setting a strong foundation for rail autonomy and solving global challenges right here in Ontario.”
Thales is proud to have achieved this important milestone towards train autonomy in partnership with Metrolinx and Invision AI, said Chris Pogue, CEO, Thales Canada. “Thales is committed to collaboration across all of our markets in Canada. The WinterTech project demonstrates the tremendous value that partnerships with start-ups and SMBs can deliver for Ontario. By bringing together our unique technological capabilities, together we are offering valuable made-in-Ontario solutions to our customers..”
“This unique partnership between Invision AI, Thales and Metrolinx offers enhanced safety and efficiency for rail systems around the world, particularly those operating in harsh winter climates.” said Vic Fedeli, Ontario Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade. “Supporting research and development projects like this one, which enable the safe operation of advanced connected and autonomous mobility technologies in winter conditions, is why AVIN’s Winter Tech Development Program was created. It brings together ambitious technology start-ups and industry leaders to pioneer advanced mobility technologies with global potential.”
View a video on this project:
Railway Age Editor-in-Chief William C. Vantuono contributed to this story.