Autonomous trains are the solution of the future

Mobility is one of the major topics and a driver of growth and improvement in modern cities. Solutions for a smart city need to combine technology, communication and traffic. This enables people to get from their homes to their offices easily and comfortable. New options for traveling within cities are essential, as the capacity of the infrastructure of public transport becomes more critical worldwide. But also travelling between cities needs to change. This ensures we have less car-traffic on the roads, which also results in less air pollution. Smart mobility is one of the cornerstones for smart cities in general and especially for smart traffic.


Self-driving electric cars seem to be a preferred solution in a modern society. It looks like car manufacturers are keen to engage with this technology. But another question is, how public transport fits into this? For UITP (the International Association of Public Transport) a report from January this year shows opportunities that these changes in urban mobility offer for public transport companies. Furthermore one could think about how the rail industry can benefit from the rapid and disrupting advances in the driverless car technologies.


Driverless does not mean autonomous

Driverless trains are already in use in numerous cities around the globe. Autonomous trains are the next step, as Valentin Scinteie, Transportation Business Development Manager at Kontron explains. Valentin has worked in transit ITS (Intelligent Transportation Systems), rail security and communications and in vehicle ECT (Embedded Computing Technologies) for over 20 years and he is familiar with all topics concerning modern traffic and transportation that is data driven. The expert identifies two emerging high-tech areas. Firstly, which is perhaps the more traditional definition, on-board gateways and the Internet of Things (IoT) are used to collect data. This information is then securely transferred to a central location, from where the data can be analyzed and actioned.

Analysis can e.g. help to improve operational performance, develop further predictive maintenance, sharpen location accuracy and to offer better passenger information. Kontrons TRACeTM product line has been designed with built-in IoT connectivity to address the broadest range of modern, connected rolling-stock applications. The EN50155 certified computer profiles can easily be customized. They are specifically designed to meet the requirements of video surveillance, passenger infotainment/ entertainment, onboard Wi-Fi, train to ground communications, fleet management as well as safety critical platforms.


Powerful solutions for autonomous trains

But Kontron is already planning the future of traffic, based on its High Performance Embedded Computing platforms (HPEC), that has been driven by the autonomous vehicles (AV) market at an amazing speed. The company offers very powerful on-board computers, that don’t need large central servers, but can be directly linked to control rooms. This will allow trains to use the same platform as AV and will enable them to make decisions themselves, using sensors, 3D maps and real-time data.

The development of AV technology in rail is already being planned on lines around the world.  These trains will be adapting the concepts used on AV cars as well as potentially the emerging SDN (Software Defined Networks) and NVF (Network Function Virtualization) Telecom technologies. Kontron describes this as “software defined trains (SDT)” and “train function virtualization (TFV)” that can use just one HPEC platform with built-in redundancy and are not reliant on infrastructure at all. When combined with IoT enabled Gateways and Fog/Cloud processing, these technologies will also enable new business models such as TaaS (Transportation as a Service).

Due to Kontron experts, the advantages of this kind of development are numerous:

  • Reduction of total cost of ownership for train operators
  • Smaller requirements on investment by eliminating many of the costly trackside infrastructure. 
  • Decreasing costs for technology like sensors offer more achievable opportunities.


Security is the key to success

Security is a major topic for solutions that address the market for autonomous trains. Kontron has a key focus on this and collaborates closely with partners on developing new mechanisms in this area. Kontron Security Solution is a combined hardware and software solution that includes an embedded hardware security module on all Kontron products and a software framework to provide full protection for applications.

Kontron Approtect is a holistic hardware based security solution, that provides customers with the ability to address security needs at the application layer. This cost effective and proven turn-key solution is integrated into every Kontron design. Customers can easily upgrade old systems or use an existing Kontron system. Customers may also customize the solution to meet their specific needs. The Approtect features include: copy protection, IP Protection and protection from reverse engineering and tampering.

As UITP noted in their review of the effect on AV’s on transport network, the growth of the autonomous train offers great opportunities. But it is obvious that passengers will accept this advanced technology only if they are convinced they are 100% safe. 

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