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Kerala, India Uses Sensing Technology to Improve Railway Safety

Kerala Rail Development Corporation (KRDC) is collaborating with a start-up incubated at the Indian Institute for Science (IISc) to use sensing technology to make its railways safer, especially on vulnerable terrains. The IISc-incubated start-up, L2MRail, the Society for Innovation and Development (SID), and IISc signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with KRDC. The technology is based on optical light and works on the principle of wavelength shifts.

The organisations have pioneered a sensing technology to develop a structural health monitoring system (SHMS) that will monitor civil engineering structures of the Kerala Rail’s Silverline project, under which the two ends of the state will be connected by a semi high-speed rail corridor from Kasaragod to Thiruvananthapuram. It is a 530-kilometre (km) double-track stretch and the project will reduce travel time from the current ten or so hours to less than four hours. Trains are expected to run at 200 kilometres per hour (kmph), which is more than four times the current average speed of 45 kmph.

Using the Fibre Bragg Grating (FBG)-sensor-driven monitoring system, rail corporations can embed or attach sensors in rail structures, enabling both on-demand and continuous data, as well as 24/7 warning alerts for damage detection. The technology can also be customised for each structure and location. According to a news report, KRDC stated that addressing the need for accurate, real-time data of rail conditions like railway tracks and train wheels will ensure the stability and integrity of structures even in vulnerable areas.

Ensuring rail safety in settlement-prone locations, flood-prone areas, earth slip locations, weak soil, and heavy rainfall areas, necessitates a shift from conventional manual inspection. Constant, technology-driven monitoring of both running trains and rail structures offers the ideal solution, authorities have explained. There is a gap between the critical need for rail safety and the lack of systems that constantly monitor both trains and railway structures in real-time.

Structural defects are generally identified only when an accident occurs, and the preventative identification of weak links can help avoid mass casualties. The potential of FBG sensor technology is immense. Its applications are not just restricted to railways but can be used in any field that necessitates constant real-time monitoring and timely warning alerts to identify damages, an official noted.

The state has been working to digitise public service delivery and boost investment in technology start-ups. Recently, OpenGov Asia reported that the Kerala Chief Minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, inaugurated a Digital Hub at the Technology Innovation Zone in Kochi. It occupies 200,000 square feet of built-up space, set up by the Kerala Startup Mission (KSUM). The hub has the capacity to support 200 start-ups, apart from the 165 start-ups hosted in the adjoining Integrated Startup Complex.

The Digital Hub is expected to emerge as one of South Asia’s largest centres for technology start-ups. The hub houses a design incubator, healthcare incubator, centre of excellence (CoE) for mouser electronics, co-working spaces, design studios, investors hive, and an innovation centre. The digital hub is the latest addition to the Startup Mission’s Technology Innovation Zone (TIZ) as a global innovation hub for several technology sectors.

The CoE at the hub aims to groom shelter-related ideas and innovations and will function as a one-stop centre for all product design and development activities for software and hardware components. These include all sectors and emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, augmented reality/virtual reality, the Internet of things (IoT), and natural language processing.

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