Technology Focus: How Could Augmented Reality Change Working in Rail?
Latest update: August 2019
Many industries are showing an increased interest in the applications of AR. This includes the rail industry, for example High Speed 2 (HS2) has launched an AR training programme for station staff and researchers are beginning to build integrated Internet of Things systems, suitable for AR enabled monitoring and maintenance.
What is Augmented Reality?
AR technology allows users to interact with their environment by enhancing the real-world with an overlay of digital content, served by a computing device. These include mobile phones, tablets, smart glasses or other devices featuring a processor, display, sensors and camera.
What industries use Augmented Reality?
In the commercial aviation industry, Singapore’s Changi airport has introduced AR technology by way of smartglasses for safety inspectors and resident engineers to see live information from various work zones, allowing for faster incident response. Additionally, Gatwick airport have introduced an AR app that guides passengers through the airport to their destination.
In the automotive industry, Daqri has developed a Heads-Up Display (HUD) which uses AR to project digital information into a driver’s field of view. This is to minimise distraction and to prevent a loss of focus on the road.
In the medical industry, AR is being used for training. Complex operations can be practiced and simulated beforehand, reducing training costs and potentially make surgeries safer, quicker or with fewer complications. ProjectDR is an AR programme that uses medical images from sources such as CAT scans that aligns them with the patient’s physical body using a projector. This enables doctors to plan surgeries more precisely in advance and has potential applications for surgical training.
In the video game industry, AR applications are being developed such as Ingress and Pokémon Go that integrate virtual objects and goals with the mobility of smartphones. This creates a more immersive AR experience capturing the attention of a wider demographic that the traditional video games failed to.
How will Augmented Reality impact the rail industry?
In the rail industry, AR can assist in monitoring the condition of components by overlaying information on what is seen through a computing device. AR can also be used in maintenance applications to help identify the location of components where access is difficult and information about assets can be stored digitally. Costain, UWE Bristol and Enable My Team are currently developing AR technology in smartphones or head mounted displays that use predictive analytics to allow engineers to locate failing components or structure faults.
Moreover, AR can be utilised in training and development schemes for the rail industry. Siemens has begun to digitalise its training content and is using AR to help trainees practice complex tasks before they are used on the job. HS2 have launched an AR training programme to prepare station staff for customer service duties before the stations are built.
The technology has potential implications in catching fare evaders through devices at ticket gates, where information about passenger tickets could be accessed by Revenue Protection Officers.
A personalised passenger experience can be delivered using AR. Lxigo, a travel search engine in India, recently launched an AR feature on its mobile application for train passengers, which provides overlaying information to passengers that shows where their coach is.
AR also has marketing or customer engagement uses, in that AR enabled content can be used to capture more attention and interest from the passengers. Meyouandus Limited is currently developing the AR Trainkit & Fantasia Express – an AR program to show passengers passing landmarks and commercial opportunities.
What is the current state of R&D?
Several companies are developing smart contact lenses, to project images to a wearer’s eye. Research has begun on smart contact lenses, however prototypes currently lack a CPU and internet access, limiting the scope of use.
Many universities have created AR Laboratories dedicated to conducting research that will lead to accessing new tools that could be used to create new content for the training in VR and AR, as these are expected to drive the job market in the future. This content could include infrastructure solutions for streaming 3D video as well as privacy and security safeguards.
RSSB have undertaken a project evaluating the potential for AR, virtual reality and gamification (applying game mechanics such as point scoring to something that is not a game, to increase engagement and motivation), in rail industry safety critical training. The project identified that the roll out of immersive technologies should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis for effective implementation.
What uncertainties remain?
AR puts a demand on device processors due to the number of components it relies on such as displays, communications links, cameras and speech recognition. Therefore, depending on the device used, low battery life might limit the use of the technology in applications such as track inspection and maintenance as there would not be any opportunities charge the devices whilst undertaking these activities. Devices such as smart glasses may also lack 4G/5G connectivity which would reduce their usefulness in areas without access to Wi-Fi.
Additionally, if AR is to be used for monitoring and maintenance purposes, then a high quality of data must be HS2collected so that the information relayed can be trusted. This is particularly important for safety critical tasks.
What should the rail industry do?
The industry should collaborate over common AR platforms to take advantage of economies of scale and potential standardisation. Good practice should be shared within the industry.
In particular AR should continue to be used in training applications and the industry should find more opportunities to use the technology in passenger experience enhancement and maintenance. Training programmes using AR should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to ensure that the value of the traditional training programme is conserved.
Furthermore, if AR systems are to be implemented for safety critical tasks, then current standards of operation and guidance must be evaluated to ensure that this type of technology is suitable.
Banner image author: Oyundari Zorigtbaatar