Tuesday, March 1, 2016

At Last There May Be a Viable Option for Drone Technology in Freight and Logistics

Railyards Provide a Perfect Testbed for Safety Aware Autonomous Aircraft
Shipping News Feature
US – The sheer size of the logistics sector means that, no matter how niche a firm or product is, there will always be a market for well-produced and managed innovations. One company which has set itself up to work almost exclusively for rail freight facilitators is Texas based Industrial Networks (INet) which supplies railyard automation and data acquisition systems to rail track associated carriers across the US, and which now may have a use for oft maligned drone technology.

Starting in the early 90's, US Class I railroads adopted a form of passive Radio-Frequency Identification, Automated Equipment Identification (AEI), as their choice for tracking railcars. At that time, every railcar in North America was equipped with two AEI tags. In 2001 INet realised the technology was not being used to its full potential and joined with software provider Bourque Logistics improve things and to expand the business to include short line and Class I railroads, marine freight, and trucking.

Integrating INet hardware and the Bourque Logistics' YardMaster® software enabled the management of many shipping operations, such as tendering, scheduling, loading and offloading, inspection, quality control, and electronic communications for clients at over 150 locations throughout North America and Mexico.

Now it seems INet have found a viable purpose for the much publicised, and oft criticised (including on occasion by us), drone within the world of logistics. In late 2015, INet applied for exemption to Section 333 of the FFA Reform Act in the railcar inspection and inventory market space and began testing a new drone AEI reader, the INet Rail Automation Drone (IRAD1), which it believes will change the face of railyard automation once again.

The IRAD1 will be capable of fully autonomous scanning of the railyard for inventory and inspection of a railcar. Built into the drone is an elaborate collision detection and avoidance system to help avoid objects in the flight path and reinforce safety. INet says its research shows these sophisticated systems are highly effective and these give the IRAD1 the ability to be a completely autonomous AEI scanner. INet says this technology will lead to faster data collection and help the business reduce workforce requirements.

INet’s current collection of AEI-scanning tools includes stationary and handheld readers and automates data collection in the field to alleviate manual data entry errors and expedite the turnaround of railcars within a facility. The addition of the IRAD1 to INet’s arsenal of AEI-scanning tools is intended to help the customer create a work environment that is specific for their business. Anyone who has seen a drone in a field situation will realise how quickly a single unit could scan a row of railcars  Jimmy Finster, president of Industrial Networks comments:

“Advancement in drone technology has allowed Industrial Networks to explore what we feel is the future of rail automation. We are continuously researching new and innovative ways to help our customers improve their operations and streamline their daily processes.”

Whilst the thought of dozens of autonomous flying machines traversing our cities is something which is hardly credulous to most, the specialised use of drones in this private railyard situation is something which, along with fixed camera security systems and other similar technology, could be a real boost to the safety and efficiency of such sites.

IRAD1 in action.