Inside Unmanned Systems

OCT-NOV 2016

Inside Unmanned Systems provides actionable business intelligence to decision-makers and influencers operating within the global UAS community. Features include analysis of key technologies, policy/regulatory developments and new product design.

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18 unmanned systems inside   October/November 2016 AIR RAIL INSPECTION Lessig said. "They'll be able to drive true pre- ventative or predictive maintenance programs, all of which leads to safety." Safety is exactly why Union Pacif ic has turned to drones, with the company research- ing the technology for the last year and half or so, said Ed Adelman, general director for safety analysis. They haven't used it on a pro- duction basis yet, but the team certainly sees the benefits drones can provide. Some of the UAS they've invested in are quadcopters that can be used for general applications such as aerial photography and video capture, while others feature sonar that makes it possible to navigate into tight spaces, such as underneath a bridge. To make it work, they need a stable platform that can get inside large steel struc- tures or inside a culvert and still navigate on its own. Other Applications While inspection is one of the most common uses for drones in the rail industry, there are other potentially beneficial applications. Right of way mapping with UAS like the senseFly eBee makes it possible to check for vegetation encroachment by using near infra- red imaging, O'Neil-Dunne said, while ther- mal images taken as a train goes over a bridge could potentially indicate stressed areas that need attention. Drones also can be used for rail yard surveillance. O'Neil-Dunne has deployed UAS for disas- ter response as well, he said. Many of railroad tracks in Vermont are located near riverways, so when the weather started warming and cre- ating ice jams this February, there were con- cerns about how close the water was getting to the tracks. Using the eBee, O'Neil-Dunne and his team inspected the area and built 3-D models that clearly showed the track wasn't at risk. This gave emergency planners reassur- ance, while also documenting the high water conditions associated with a particular event that they can refer to in the future. O'Neil-Dunne and his team imaged a derail- ment in Vermont that happened after rocks fell onto the tracks, he said. They produced a 3-D model complete with coordinates, making it possible to tie that model into other already existing data to map the 3-D elevation of the area, which was invaluable information to have during the response. microdrones also works with rail custom- ers and CEO Sven Juerss said they've deployed drones to visually inspect the powerlines above electric trains to ensure there aren't any problems with vegetation growing into them. Typically this is done with a train that takes the neces- sary measurements via a LiDAR scanner, which is not only expensive, it's a huge operation that blocks the railway. For a project in Germany, the team flew the md4-1000 during the cold winter months to ensure critical areas stayed heated while the train idled. This is typically done with a thermal camera on the ground. While the team at BNSF usually relies on images and video for inspections, they do have infrared capabilities for emergency situations, Trevino said. If there's a derailment, for ex- ample, they can f ly over an area and identify cars that might have a change in heat pattern, guiding first responders to the cars that need to be cooled. They also f ly UAS over their rail- yards to determine if there are any containers open, to locate open parking spots for main- tenance purposes and to ensure covers are placed on the locomotive's smoke stacks—a task that takes hours for a manual inspector to complete. "A single train is 8,000 feet long. That's more than a mile long. If an incident occurs where the train has to stop and requires the attention of the engineer, the engineer will have to get out of the cab and walk the length of the train to do some further investigation," Trevino said. "It's the size of that infrastructure that pres- ents a really good opportunity for UAS because of the vantage point they can offer our people. Continued on page 22 TO LEARN MORE about the beyond visual line of sight flights BNSF completed with Insitu last year, read "Insitu ScanEagle completes successful BNSF Railway inspection" at insideunmannedsystems.com. RELATED STORIES ONLINE Photo courtesy of BNSF "WE HAVE 32,000 MILES of track in the western part of the U.S. We're responsible for that track. It's our job to ensure it's safe to run trains on that track. Today we have the ability to f ly UAS within line of sight to capture images of the track and bring those images back to a track inspector who, in real time, can look at those images and confirm there are no defects or that we need to send an inspector out to investigate further." Michael Trevino, BNSF assistant vice president for external communications

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