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Nordic Unmanned's Railway Drone prevents costly passenger and freight delays

Published 25 Oct 2022 (updated 25 June 2024) · 3 min read

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At a glance

  • Electric or hydrogen-powered drone for railway inspection and maintenance
  • Drone performs tasks without having to close off tracks
  • Improves worker safety and prevents costly delays

The eco-friendly Railway Drone performs unmanned rail maintenance and inspection normally done by workers on closed sections of track. “Our ambition is to make rail maintenance and inspection far more efficient, safe and environmentally friendly,” says Knut Roar Wiig, CEO of Nordic Unmanned.

Railway inspection and maintenance is essential for a thriving train service, but the work can often be dirty and dangerous. For this reason, maintenance is usually conducted at night or when there is no planned traffic. Still, some passenger trains and most freight trains run around the clock, so maintenance and inspection tasks often disrupt train service. A related problem is the consistent lack of data showing the state of the railway.

“The minute you close a section of railway for maintenance, passengers and freight stop moving. All the traffic gets affected. It’s like closing the main road in a city. It causes a huge line of traffic on the other roads,” says Dr José Luis Gil Yepes, Vice President of Infrastructure at Nordic Unmanned.

The Railway Drone collects important data on the state of the rails

The Staaker BG-300 Railway Drone by Nordic Unmanned alternates between an unmanned aerial vehicle and an unmanned ground vehicle for use on train tracks. The Railway Drone can precision lubricate rail switches and inspect critical parts of the railway and its surroundings while driving on the track. It also collects data with state-of-the-art cameras and sensors attached, providing a live data feed to decision makers.

When the drone encounters oncoming traffic, it autonomously flies to the side of the track and lets traffic pass, allowing trains to run on their normal schedule without disruption. The drone can also switch to alternate tracks and change direction as its mission requires.

Highly efficient, the Railway Drone can operate for about seven hours with an average speed of 20 km per hour and cover more than 200 km of rail in one mission using energy from hydrogen fuel cells.

When the Railway Drone encounters an oncoming train, it autonomously flies to the side of the track to let the train pass.

Protects rail workers from unsafe conditions

The Railway Drone keeps workers off the tracks, sparing them from the most dangerous maintenance situations. “The Railway Drone definitely makes railway work safer. We see our drone as a tool to facilitate the employees’ work. The drone doesn’t make jobs obsolete. The human factor is still there. We are putting workers in a position to make decisions based on the data they receive from the drone,” explains Gil Yepes.

Moreover, the Railway Drone allows trains to run on schedule, which saves money and avoids costly delays. Thanks to the drone, maintenance and inspection can be done during regular traffic hours, enhancing efficiency within the entire rail system. “There’s a huge cost to making railway lines unavailable. The Railway Drone solves this problem,” says Gil Yepes.

The drones comes in two eco-friendly options. One uses a rechargeable battery pack, while the other is powered with hydrogen fuel cells. Customers can choose either one, but the hydrogen-powered drone is the zero-emission alternative.

Emerging market for railway maintenance drones

The global railway maintenance machinery market was estimated at USD 3.73 billion in 2019 and is expected to reach USD 5.52 billion by 2027. Target customers for the Railway Drone include rail owners and manufacturers, as well as companies that provide maintenance for the railway industry.

“We plan to introduce the Railway Drone around the world. The market is still developing, and different countries have slightly different needs in terms of their railway systems. Over time, we intend to make our drone viable for a wide variety of systems,” says Gil Yepes.

The Railway Drone is scheduled for release in Q4 2021, and the company already has one Norwegian customer.

Nordic Unmanned is a leading provider of UAS technology and services. The company carries out remote monitoring of vessel sulphur emissions, oil spill monitoring, and other types of monitoring and inspection as well. Nordic Unmanned is also developing an eco-friendly hydrogen-powered drone with doubled endurance.

Dr José Luis Gil Yepes

Vice President of Infrastructure

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