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Rugged Railway Computers Transform Track Inspection with Augmented Railway Corridors

Hi-rail vehicles and trained specialist rail inspectors carry out regular biweekly corridor track patrols across thousands of miles of rail network in the USA. Not only is this process dangerous and costly but is also prone to human errors due to high cognitive load on operators and the access requirements on the network. Looking to transform critical infrastructure inspections there is a vision for augmented track patrol by using forward-facing high resolution cameras, powerful rail computing, and a machine learning platform.

Our customer developed an alternative program and solution to the labour intensive manual hi-rail track patrol program and came to Things Embedded to help with the implementation of their rugged railway computer requirements. In order to create a digital twin of the rail network forward-facing high-resolution video cameras, LiDAR, GNSS, and IMU positioning sensors onboard rugged high performance compute platforms are required. Once data is captured from the onboard cameras and sensors the data is automatically analysed by Convolutional Deep Learning Neural Networks (CDLNN), or simply a machine learning platform, to automatically detect, classify and grade the condition of the assets, defects, and safety incursions inside the railway corridor.

The railway inspection is automated by a cloud-based management system, meaning an onboard GPU was not required. The customer was looking for the ideal solution:

  • High-performance computer in a rugged compact form factor.
  • Dual NIC for switch connectivity to host cameras and LiDAR sensors.
  • Onboard expansion for GNSS/IMU cards.
  • Front-accessible SIM slots onboard.
  • Rugged design to handle daily shock and vibration onboard rolling stock.
  • Extended operating temperatures to safeguard against extremes in seasonal temperature changes.
  • Wide ranging power input for 24V and 48V DC power standards.

Rugged Rail Computing Solutions

Compact Modular Railway Computing Safeguarding Future Expansion

The chosen rugged railway computer packs high performance, numerous I/O ports, and expansion flexibility into a compact form factor. Powered by an 8th Gen Intel Core U-Series Whiskey Lake Processor, the rail PC maintains a low 15W TDP while delivering uncompromised performance. Capable of providing high compute performance in a fanless, passively-cooled, compact chassis, this rugged embedded computer is ideal for the proposed space-constrained environments often found in transportation or onboard rolling stock.

The transportation computer has been designed to operate in tough conditions, with a wide temperature range and variable power input. It is protected from over-voltage, over-current, and electrostatic discharge. Additionally, it comes with certifications that guarantee it meets rugged approved standards such as MIL-STD-810G, E-mark, and EN50155. The included wall mounting option allows the rolling-stock PC to be securely deployed without the need for additional considerations by the end user.

An Intel Core i7 CPU was integrated with 32GB of industrial-grade DDR4 SO-DIMM memory, delivering four cores and eight threads with burst frequencies up to 4.4GHz, enabling extraordinary performance and responsiveness to complete computationally intensive tasks more quickly. This processing architecture fulfils the need for edge deployment and creating a digital twin of the rail network, utilizing forward-facing ultra-high-definition video cameras. Despite the high performance of the i7 CPU, its low 15W power draw extends the operating temperature of the fanless PC.

Despite the fanless rail PC’s compact design, neither onboard I/O nor functionality is sacrificed. It features dual LAN with gigabit bandwidth, four high-speed USB ports, and two standard USB 2.0 ports, as well as two RS232/422/485 serial ports, allowing the rugged rail computer to connect to high-speed devices such as host cameras and LiDAR sensors. The EN50155 PC is also capable of modular expansion through patented ‘Combined Multiple I/O (CMI)’ and ‘Control Function Module (CFM)’ bays, making it easy to configure for further I/O and function customization and safeguarding the customer’s investment during development stages. This flexibility allows the ruggedized EN50155 computer to be configured with extra LAN supporting up to 10GbE bandwidths via RJ45 or locking M12 connections, while also being capable of adding functionality such as power ignition sensing or PoE functionality.

The rail PC is also available with an external fan for additional cooling when using high-watt peripherals like cameras through PoE, keeping critical onboard components separate from dust contamination and maintenance-free, while also maintaining extended operating temperature capabilities. It hosts two full-size Mini PCIe sockets for onboard Cellular/GNSS/IMU cards, along with dual front-accessible SIM card slots for cellular network redundancy, guaranteeing uninterrupted data transmission.


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