Autonomous rail prototype concept successfully demonstrated in Canada

autonomous rail vehicle Lumibird Canada, a designer and manufacturer of Lidar systems, Thales and the Lassonde School of Engineering at York University have successfully completed the OnTRAC project a 30-month programme to develop, prototype, and validate the feasibility and functionality of a sensor fusion system supporting the autonomous rail vehicle concept.

The system is designed to be integrated with autonomous rail vehicle fleet for the purpose of Obstacle Detection, Classification and Tracking (OCDT) in varying weather conditions.

Beginning in 2019, the partnership first performed an investigative study of the challenges and threats posed to autonomous rail vehicles, then developed a novel sensor architecture, resulting in a new prototype Lidar system specifically designed for rail vehicles, and concluded the project in 2021 with safety and operational assessment – by way of in-situ rail demonstrations – in typical and adverse weather conditions.

Leveraging the field-proven Opal 3D Lidar product family, the successful completion of the project resulted in an integrated suite of different vision sensors, especially a novel, scalable, 3D Lidar design, with innovative deep learning and artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms for object detection, classification and tracking in a systems architecture that addresses the stringent safety needs and performance requirements for autonomous rail operation.

The innovative system established in this project will support the development of safe, autonomous

urban rail systems, to make rail transport more efficient, less costly to operate, and capable of 24/7 functionality while minimising accidents due to lack of experience/training, fatigue, and other related effects which affect human operators. Furthermore, the ODCT technology and prototype developed and demonstrated under this OnTRAC project is also applicable to other connected and/or autonomous vehicle market segments including automotive, industrial and marine.

The project has been supported by the Government of Ontario, through the OVIN’s R&D Partnership Fund which provided CAD 1.13 million (USD 905,491) and a further CAD 1.45 million (USD 1.16 million) is industry’s contribution. CAD 2.85 million (USD 2 million) is the total value of the project.

The results of the project provide the foundation for commercializing ODCT solutions as part of Canada’s next-generation autonomous rail signalling and control products and represent an important step in securing Canadian technology leadership and exports in the global autonomous systems market.

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