Smart transport on the right track

Hackathon in a train filled with bright minds

Autonomous cars increasingly feature in the news. But the autonomous train is coming, too. Vodafone Business is closely involved in the technologies enabling this, like IoT and 5G. For that reason Vodafone Business participated in the Hackatrain this year.

Railway challenge
The Hackatrain is a two-day hackathon that takes place in a train traveling from Amsterdam to Berlin and that continues at Beach Bar Mitte. On board, nearly a hundred contestants in seventeen teams compete against each other in finding smart solutions for self-driving vehicles, so-called autonomous transport. Vodafone Business participated in this railway challenge with 9 teams, reflecting on the autonomous train, improving the railways and developing concrete solutions.

Participants come from the business world, but students and start-ups take part too. What they have in common is a passion for innovation. Based on their expertise in marketing, technology or business they contribute to the various challenges. A panel of experts assesses which concept scores best as to innovation, technical feasibility and creativity. The contest is rounded off by a visit to the technology festival Tech Open Air in the German capital.

Safe, fast and smart
“5G is an important technology that takes autonomous transport and smart mobility to the next level”, says Jelmer Letterie, Senior Proposition Marketer IoT at VodafoneZiggo. “The transmission of data requires a fast and reliable connection. Especially when it comes to safety. If a warning signal is triggered, you want the train to stop immediately, and not after a delay of one or two seconds.”

The combination of different technologies leads to numerous possibilities. For example, the coupling or uncoupling of goods wagons at the right spot or monitoring the railway. That is an area where 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT) come together. A fast exchange of data between goods wagons can prevent delays and collisions.

Since the hackathon participants not only have to think up solutions, but also need to demonstrate a working prototype to the expert panel in Berlin, they all receive an IoT starter’s kit from Vodafone. The kit consists of sensors and a NB IoT connection. NB IoT stands for Narrow Band Internet of Things, a technology efficiently connecting devices to the internet.

Smart use of data
One of the hackers, Rosellina Galasso, works as a Business Intelligence specialist at VodafoneZiggo. She explains: “I look at smarter ways to use data. For instance in the financial sector, but transport also offers a great many opportunities. I travel a lot by train myself and I see numerous options to improve the travel experience. It is a wonderful challenge to link 5G and IoT to autonomous transport.”

During the Hackatrain Rosa’s team has developed a solution focusing on multimodal transport. How can you use all the means of transportation currently available more efficiently? Think of electric bikes for rent, steps or cars. Current apps only really show the standard means of public transport, like buses, trains and trams. They don’t always take you to your destination in the fastest way. By combining the data of all these transport services, you can offer tomorrow’s traveller a better experience.

Innovative solutions
After two days of hard labour building prototypes, the participants learned who was voted the winner. The winning team has developed an idea to make railway crossings and platforms safer. They intend to install an emergency button at locations that are accident-prone, like unprotected level crossings or platforms. In an emergency situation the emergency button calls forth a direct video link with the train cabin where the engine driver can take action based on the video footage. The emergency button and cameras are connected through the Vodafone network. In the future, smart cameras will be able to identify unsafe situations automatically and send the images to the engine driver over the superfast 5G network.

5G lab Eindhoven
Vodafone has decided to support one of the participating teams in further developing their concept. That team came up with a way to detect falling leaves on the railway tracks by means of IoT and 5G. Falling leaves cause major problems in the autumn, resulting in many delays. Expansion of the tracks as a result of heat also messes up the time table. The hackers thought of a way to monitor the tracks by IoT technology and share this information with trains in the area through 5G technology. Vodafone invites the team to develop this idea in more detail, together with Prorail and TNO. This is to take place in the 5G lab in Eindhoven that will shortly open its doors.

Hackatrain 2019 | Official Aftermovie

MPH Photography & Boost Breda