"I think the potential around the connected train is clear and pace of change and possibilities are accelerating..."
It’s been hard to escape the term Internet of Things (IoT) this past year, its applications for everything from controlling heating in your home to monitoring concussions for athletes have been widely covered in the media. Now of course, for us in the rail industry, machine to machine communication isn’t anything that new. But our Editor, Luke Upton, wanted to cut through the hype and get a real focus on what the IoT can truly deliver for rail and metro, and what it means for operators, manufacturers, integrators and passengers. He was pointed towards Kontron, a leader in embedded computing technology and an adviser to many in rail on IoT and their Transportation Business Development Manager Valentin Scinteie. Kontron offers a blend of best of class German and French engineering quality and Silicon Valley innovation and having worked in transit, rail security and communications for over 20 years, 15 of which were spent at Alstom, Valentin is the perfect guide to this rapidly developing area.
Luke Upton (LU): Thanks for the time today. The concept of the Internet of Things (IoT) is not a new one for the industry, but its adoption and expansion has quickened recently. What’s accelerating this development within rail and metro?
Valentin Scinteie (VS): Not a problem Luke, Yes, that’s true, it’s a familiar concept. But what we are seeing now is not only a more rapid deployment but a widening of the range of possibilities that the Internet of Things can provide, particularly when combined with the next generation of Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) embedded technology platforms. The convergence of digital technology and faster Ethernet and Wi-Fi networks have helped make this possible, and are now followed by new IoT enabled COTS next generation train system architectures. A move away from proprietary middleware and hardware as well now means operators and their suppliers can implement massively-connected real-time information systems much more quickly, with more functionality and at far less cost than ever before.
LU: I’m interested to hear you mention the move away from a propriety approach to product delivery and installation, is this a trend you are seeing across the industry?
VS: Yes, most certainly. Traditionally, proprietary software has been a popular choice due to the large market share of the big developers but open-source solutions are now more widely rail-certified in the market. The pace of change is quicker now and organisations don’t want to be tied down to a particular supplier or format. Off the shelf platforms are now increasingly popular, obviously enabled by the IP revolution of recent years.
A move away from a propriety approach is taking time to work through the industry as a whole, and there’s still people working through lengthy contracts. But this shift is one the biggest trends of recent years and one we fully support. Our COTS approach is non-proprietary and gives flexibility for OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) system designers and SIs (System Integrators) to work with us and focus on innovating their specific software applications, with the sure knowledge that hardware platform will work!
LU: The possibilities for widening IoT development are clear, but there is still a high cost of investing in this. With a lot of media around IoT, how do you prove the value of an investment in it?
VS: I’ve worked in the industry for long enough to know that in delivering projects for operators, you have to be clear in the value that is offered. What is so positive about IoT is that it offers a number of different opportunities to improve performance both on an operational side and in improving the passenger experience. Plus you don’t have to change what you are doing in a major way – just ensure you are collecting more data on what you are often already doing.
With greater amounts of data secured through IoT, the operator control centres can be in constant real-time communication with all trains, and conduct remote monitoring and diagnostic checks on what we call the ‘vital signs’ of the train combined with edge, fog and central analytics, and this helps ensure a smoother, safer, more reliable and cost-effective running of the whole train service.
VS: Absolutely. The system provides the data needed for this type of maintenance. And this is hugely popular with operators. For example if a key component of an Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) is predicted to fail, a technical team can be alerted to this fact and replace it next time the train has a scheduled time in the yard.
LU: And for the operators this would also help support predictive and preventative maintenance?
Without this, it may fault during a journey, and potentially cause the passengers discomfort. The scenario can be easily avoided using this kind of maintenance and helps reduce operating costs and can significantly extend train service life. To maximize system availability and reliability, Kontron offers health management capabilities built into our products. Large rolling stock fleets spread over thousands of kilometres of railway can use real-time data access to make improved actionable decisions. (Editor – for more on this click here to read a Health Management White Paper from Kontron)
TRACe HMID104-EN50155 certified fanless railway touchscreen driver console for train control systems for drivers, passenger information displays and onboard computers
LU: Trains running more regularly and in better condition is always welcomed by passengers. But how else does the IoT improve their experience of train transport?
VS: Kontron works on a couple of areas which are passenger focused. To match the demand for interactive passenger information and entertainment systems, we have developed the TRACe modular hardware platform which includes entertainment ready configurations. We saw the increasing trend for people to bring their own device (BYOD) onto the train for entertainment but this increase can put pressure on the existing Wi-Fi network and can cause poor performance. This offering has films, TV shows etc. already loaded up on-board in the system and able to be accessed seamlessly by the passengers own device. It also potentially offers new revenue stream for the operator if they choose to charge for this service.
In addition to entertainment offering, we also offer video surveillance security system, which can make passengers feel more secure.
The TRACe video surveillance ready configurations can run COTS VMS (Video Management Software) enabling much simpler and less costly connectivity to exiting train operator central security systems. And improved information services for train staff and passengers, ensuring everyone is kept up to date with the status of the train and get advance warnings of any external events that may impact on journey times.
LU: I think this is a real exciting area, and it’s been great following its development of recent years on SmartRail World. But when I talk to operators there’s still the worry of obsolescence in such a fast moving area. You must come up against this objection as well?
VS: Yes, yes we do. And this is something at Kontron that we work very hard on. When we deliver our products they are designed to be long-lasting but remaining flexible and open for future innovations. With our ComExpress architecture and multiple mPCIe expansion slots for example, it is an easy matter to upgrade the modular platform by a new generation and more preformat of compatible microprocessors, or to incorporate future performance or networking standards, or indeed any newly requested function. With this approach, the total cost of ownership is minimized and the product has a long life time and we guarantee that all Kontron products will remain on the market for extended periods with full support during this time.
LU: Thanks, it’s been great to get such a rounded perspective on the IoT and your approach to its development and partnerships. As we are speaking at the start of the year, what’s going to be keeping you most busy in 2016?
VS: No problems Luke, well it’s certainly shaping up to be a very busy year with plenty of projects and developments. But just to pick one I’m particularly focused on the Kontron TRACe family of intelligent transportation computers and fantastic work in helping our OEM and SI customers take advantage of the ‘Smart
Transportation’ market opportunities – in both retrofit and brand new rolling stock situations. They help deliver a lot of the IoT functions we’ve discussed from Passenger Information Systems to Video Streaming & Storage Servers, Surveillance, and Train Management Systems and are easy to customize to meet the requirements of individual rail operators. Plus we’ve built them in such a way that they have a small footprint and low-profile design which optimises available space but can still operate even in the harshest environments. I welcome your readers to view our video describing the benefits of using our TRACe rail solutions...
And what’s really satisfying is seeing the impact of our IoT technology improving rail operations first hand around the world whether it’s spotting faults before they become problematic, improving passenger experience or making train management more efficient. It’s exciting to see these changes but also to know there’s more potential to develop what IoT can do for trains even further.
LU: Thanks. Your enthusiasm is obvious for this area and its potential, just to finish up, as we ask all our interviewees what most excites you about the future of the rail industry?
VS: Lots! I think the potential around the connected train is clear and pace of change and possibilities are accelerating which is exciting. But I think that this theme of connectivity can be expanded further into the cities we live and society at large. And I’m a supporter of a more green and environmentally friendly world, and public transport can play a huge role in this development. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next!
LU: Thanks very much Val!
About Valentin Scinteie (Transportation Compelling Value Proposition Advocate)
Valentin is a Senior Transportation Manager who has demonstrated the ability to lead cross-functional teams of professionals to new levels of success, in both small and large size organizations and in a variety of highly competitive industries and fast-paced market environments. After more than 20 years in the rail and security industries with Alstom Transport and Genetec respectively, Valentin joined his current employer Kontron Transportation in 2014. Valentin holds a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from McGill University, Montreal, and an MBA degree in International Business from l’École des hautes études commerciales (HEC), Montreal. In his current position, Valentin is responsible for product market alignment and business development of the Kontron rail onboard and trackside IoT (Internet of Things) ready solutions.
To contact Valentin Scinteie: Valentin.Scinteie@kontron.com or +1 (450) 437 4661, ext. 2310
About Kontron- A global market leader for embedded computing technology (ECT), Kontron delivers a broad line of standards-based transportation solutions for rolling-stock applications through easily customizable, EN50155 pre-certified and application-oriented computer profiles: Video Surveillance, Passenger Entertainment, Communications, Train Control and Health Management. As a leader in rail control and signaling computing platforms with more than 1,000 systems delivered worldwide, Kontron solutions are designed for applications in locations ranging from dispatch centers, to control centers and rolling stock. For more information, please visit http://www.kontron.com/industries/transportation