In this episode of HxGN Radio, we discuss how rail companies can keep customers and cargo safe, while doing more with a finite set of tracks.
JW: Hello, thanks for tuning in to HxGN Radio. I’m Jack Williams, the Director of Industry & Portfolio Marketing for Hexagon’s Safety, Infrastructure & Geospatial division. And today I’ll be your host. In this podcast, we’re going to be talking about rail industry and to what I believe are the underlying factors that help rail companies achieve their ultimate goal, which is: one, to keep customers and cargo safe, two, increase customer satisfaction, all the while performing number three, which is doing more with a finite set of tracks. Increasing demand in for mobility options and a greater focus on sustainability have driven interest in investment in rail. Globally, they say passenger and freight traffic are expected to double by 2050 due to the increased use of rail versus road. And the limited abilities to expand the rail industry has more traffic on the tracks. The congestion of the rail tracts combined with contemporary threats, such as pandemics, terrorism and natural disasters have made today’s safety and security expectations for rail higher than ever.
And I believe at the heart of these expectations and what constitutes “success” is the ability to minimise unplanned disruptions, handle incidents as they arise and minimising their impact, and the overall ability to be more proactive rather than reactive when it comes to overall security and surveillance for rail. And who better to talk with today than Angelo Gazzoni and Carl-Thomas, who are here to provide their thoughts and insights on the import of security and surveillance, why it matters and what rail leaderships can do to ultimately succeed in this crucial and foundational task. Carl-Thomas Schneider is the Vice President of 3D Surveillance at Hexagon Geosystems and Angelo Gazzoni is the Italian Country Manager at Hexagon Safety, Infrastructure & Geospatial. Welcome to the show, Angelo and Carl-Thomas. Thanks for joining.
AG: Thank you. Thanks for having me today.
CTS: Hi Jack. Thank you.
JW: So, guys, first off, thanks for joining. And I’m really excited about the conversation today. So, let’s get down to it. So, when we use broad terms like security and surveillance, those are very broad in nature. When it comes to rail, I want to understand better the current state. Where are we at today when it comes to the rail industry? What drives the rail industry and motivates them, motivates leadership? What do you think is the current mindset? What’s it like today when it comes to how to handle incidents, how to handle security, how to handle surveillance, how to minimise disruptions, is it viewed as a high strategic priority? And if so, why? And if not, why not? So, Angelo, I’ll start with you. What are your thoughts?
AG: I would say definitely safety and security represent a high priority in the rail industry decision makers agenda. And this goes, let’s say beyond customer satisfaction, there are several risk factors that must be addressed properly in order to reduce the impact on the business. And of course, reduce the potential cost arising from disruptions. It is a lesser challenge and it applies the management of several aspects that can impact the organisation and damage the ability to save the market. And I’m talking about safety of passengers and goods specifically for people and properties travelling, employees safety, health related causes, but there’s also a service availability, which is a key factor in the organisation’s ability to stay the market. There are risk of penalties or fines or reimbursement, and then there also health related causes.
Also, cybersecurity is an important factor which may put the infrastructure in a position not to be available for goods and people to travel. And that also the protection of the assets that has to be taken into consideration. So, all this taken together puts the rail management, infrastructure management, to be very sensible in this topic, such as the safety and security. So, it’s not just a cost that a railway infrastructure as to face. It’s also an opportunity, a strategic investment and assets.
JW: Thanks, Angelo. And, reducing the impact and cost is an obvious one, but also the protection of the asset, service availability, passenger and property safety. So, Carl-Thomas, what are your thoughts on the current mindset today of the rail industry when it comes to security and surveillance? Anything to add?
CTS: Yes, a little bit. I fully agree what Angelo already said, but I would also take a closer look on customer satisfaction, because this is also something that is quite important because the more satisfied the customers are, the more revenue the rail company is doing because the more they use trains and subway, and we have to talk about reliability and also punctuality of trains, because this is very important for the customers. You want to be on your target in time. When you go to work in the morning, you have to be there to the right time. You want to avoid interruptions also. And this is where also rail industry is really focusing on because as I said, punctuality also leads to penalties. Maybe if you don’t meet them and customers are not satisfied. And there we see also a big impact of the security surveillance that offers us the chance to more digitise everything around. So, around the people flow around any incidents/accidents that happened and also help then the organisation to improve, especially on things that affect customer satisfaction.
JW: Yeah. Excellent points Carl-Thomas. Customer satisfaction, reliability, punctuality. I like the way you mentioned, sort of viewing leadership, viewing the security and surveillance as a way to digitise. The incident management life cycle, people flow, improve, efficiency, all those. It sounds like it is a very strategic high priority that has some broad tentacles into improving the overall efficiency, cost and safety of the rail organisation. So, with that said, can you tell us about some of the technology trends that are driving some of the strategic focus for rail customers that you deal with, or just the rail industry as a whole? What are some of these trends? Why are they important? Or in other words, what’s driving the investment for large rail organisations, Carl-Thomas?
CTS: Yes. When we speak a little bit about technology, then we see basic two trends that are upcoming now in security surveillance. And this is also where Hexagon is quite active. So, one of the trends is, what we call it, 3D surveillance. 3D surveillance is a new disruptive technology that allows, compared to just the simple 2D video surveillance, 3D allows to completely understand what happens in people flow, what happens on the track, what happens on the platform, everything in 3D. So, we get much more information than just the simple camera. And with this tool that we are working with it’s much easier, and you get much more information to improve your processes. This is one trend.
And the second one I would like to highlight is autonomy. When we look at all the hundreds of thousands of cameras, you see in a subway system and you want to figure out, is there any critical event? This is something that is almost impossible because imagine the guard sitting in front of a wall of monitors and figure out where is something critical happening. And so here, autonomy comes into the game. So, a technology that allows us to automatically detect where the critical event happened, and this is possible using three dimensional surveillance with the sensors that we do provide.
JW: Hey, Carl-Thomas, for those out there in the audience, who might not understand by what we mean by 3D. What gives the 3D surveillance? What is it at its basic level? What does that mean from a technology point of view? What are the key features, and functions of a 3D surveillance approach?
CTS: Yes, 3D for us means actually that we completely scan the whole scenery. So not having just the two dimensional image of it as a camera delivers. We give you all the 3D information. That means a cat that’s running around. We can immediately tell this is an object that is 60 centimetres in size. We can detect that a person is maybe one metre 80. We can tell if someone is on the track, that person is 50 metres away exactly on this position. And with this knowledge we create this information with laser scanning. This is the core technology of Hexagon. And we use now this technology for the surveillance applications and this full knowledge of the scene allows us to automatically detect and understand what is going on and this information we use to supply or to help making decisions what to do next.
JW: Excellent. Well, that sounds like the future. Thanks for clarifying that Carl-Thomas. Angelo, what do you see as some of the technology trends from your perspective with some of our customers or the industry as a whole, and what’s driving investment, your thoughts?
AG: Yeah. Okay. So, I would say generally the technology, which is driving the growth and trends in all major industries is more or less applying also to the rail industry. If I take an analysis of the challenges that the rail industry have to face. The key one is that they have millions of assets distributed in the field thousands or millions of people travelling, which may be impacted by accident or malfunction in the server. So, it’s a very complex context. In that perspective, the ultimate objectives are improve the situational awareness. So, understanding what’s going on in field and integrating large number of devices, sensor, aet cetera, by one side. And the other side is the effective response. Always with the safety and security in mind, the faster you respond, the lower will be the impact of an accident. So, if I look at the technology that can help meeting these objectives, definitely whatever feel related to preventive maintenance.
So, every intelligence that it is distributed in a field that may prevent or predict that an equipment may break or something may happen that is then sent to a control room where somebody takes this into consideration, maybe integrates this information with other sources of information in order to make decision. Possibly preventive or if it’s already happening something the faster possible. Then there’s, IoT definitely every edge computing kind of technology, which puts the intelligence in the field. That’s also the mobile technology. 5G is driving more and more services and workflows to be possible to execute in the field. And in this respect always considering safety of security. The more exchange of information there is between the field and the control room, the better the decision are made, the faster, more effective the responses can be. So, this is definitely something driving the rail industry in a perspective of safety and security.
And then one of the most important one is the digital twin. All operators are creating a digital representation of the infrastructure, again for the situational awareness kind of purpose. And then this is why, for example, Hexagon has got technology to represent an environment digitally in order to provide protection and response and reaction.
Another important one is cloud and autonomous technologies in general. And it is one of the key objective of Hexagon to deliver autonomous technologies. And in this perspective, we are delivering technology that helps customers having autonomous systems that make some analysis of information and provides possible outcomes for a human being to then take actions or make informed decision.
JW: Yeah. So, it sounds complex, just like you said some of that situational awareness, being able to, with the adoption of 5G, like you said, that increases the amount of IoT devices and sensors and things that really produce data flooding back into the control centre. And so, you need to be able to sort of filter through that noise, turn that data into knowledge so that you have that situational awareness. And then if things do occur, then you have to respond. And, you kind of got the 3D security and surveillance on the front end, really doing some cutting edge, autonomy and surveillance of being able to identify things. Then once they’re identified and brought into a control centre, being able to respond when appropriate, that kind of seems at the heart of both what you guys mentioned in that last piece.
So, let me ask you this. So, Carl-Thomas, you worked for Hexagon Geosystems and Angelo, we work for Safety, Infrastructure & Geospatial, however, we’re all in the Hexagon family. So, Angelo, when it comes to meeting the needs of rail customers today, what have we provided in the past and what do we provide today to our customers in this space? Can you elaborate more, maybe on some specific example use cases that Hexagon SIG has used in the rail industry, specifically as it pertains to security and surveillance and how they’re being used?
AG: Sure. So definitely we have historically been provided, as I mentioned, location intelligence information. So, the ability to understand where on the track assets are located and the way these assets are contributing to the functioning of the overall infrastructure. And then we also provide technology for control room for both protecting the infrastructure in a way that if an accident happens in the field, if an equipment breaks down, if there is a weather condition that have an implication on the infrastructure, then somebody in a control room can understand what’s going on. And despite the most appropriate resources, technical resources with the right equipment, with the right instrumentation to go on the field and reduce the unavailability of the infrastructure in the shortest time possible. But then being the rail infrastructure or in general, the transportation infrastructure, very sensible in the way that there are people travelling and gathering many people in places like stations or like trains or buses, creates, of course, a risk situation.
So, if something broke, if there is a disruption of the service, you have to protect people and ensure their safety is guaranteed. There may be situation where there are civil arrests or there’s cases of situation, where there is a need to have people in the field to assist passenger and potentially escalate the problem to blue lights, to police, to EMS, aet cetera. So, we have examples and we have done projects where we provided excellent technology to rail or public transportation providers in our order to increase their protection of their infrastructure and the people and goods travelling in their network, but also to better understand their assets in the field and how they work. And the implication that something, a failure in any kind of system may have on the functioning of the overall services.
JW: Hey, Angelo, do you have any specific customers that we can mention?
AG: Well, the Ferrovie dello Stato, which is the Italian former national railway operator has been historically a customer of Hexagon in Italy, and we’ve been using our technology, both for assets management for digitising the infrastructure, but also for the protection of the infrastructure. So, with a control room, actually with several control room countrywide, then connected to a national wide control room that oversees the function of the national wide system.
JW: Impressive. And, it sounds like historically, and even today, we provide the ability to help people manage rail organisations, manage their infrastructure, capture that situational awareness capture data from the field, from alarm sensors devices, and then provide a way in which to manage incidents as they occur, help to predict and prevent incidents through early detection, and then to respond to situations in the field as needed. So that’s very interesting and great to hear that we’re having success in that. Carl-Thomas, do you have any example use cases of how Hexagon Geosystems has used some of the 3D security and surveillance technologies in the rail industry that you’d like to talk about?
CTS: Yes, I can do this because it’s quite interesting. When I came to rail industry in the beginning, and I noticed that there are quite many things around where 3D surveillance is a really good help. And one of the things I didn’t know that before is actually the monitoring of tunnel entries. So, this is especially in subways. It’s interesting that for instance, in a bigger city, like we had these talks in Washington, also in Europe, in Germany, in Hamburg, it happens about 30, 40 times per year, that persons somehow move into the tunnels and they have to shut down for several hours, the complete subway system to make sure that nobody is in the tunnels anymore. And to find this out. And here we come now with our 3D surveillance technology that allows us to monitor the tunnel entry, but not only with the laser scanner that I described, because our product, the BLK247 also has incorporated cameras and also thermal cameras.
So if now a person enters the tunnel, we can immediately detect this and send images to the control room or videos. That immediately allow to identify what has happened and where it has happened. And this is a great step forward to avoid these long term shutdowns. And that’s what the BLK247 offers, and the reliability is here also of a big importance, because it is not only interesting for subway tunnels, but also any railway tunnel outside in the field. So, you also want to detect if there is maybe an animal in there, but if it’s very small, you can just ignore it. And this is what we can do with our 3D technology. We can immediately identify, is there an object of a critical size, or is it just very small? Which is something that’s not so easy or important when you do this with the video cameras.
So, this is one application, it’s a tunnel entry, but also the surveillance of rail crossings is important, especially when you are quite remote, you have to make sure that nothing is on the rail crossing when the train approaches, and when you detect something there, you can send a signal to the train. The train can slow down and approach slowly to the railway crossing, which increases the safety and at the end avoids accidents and increases reliability and punctuality. So, this is only a few things, but we have others detecting people on tracks, managing overcrowded platforms so that you can increase efficiency of trains and platforms while distributing the person’s on the platform in an equal way. So, that not everyone’s goes in the middle into the train, but also to the front and the rear end. This is also a case where 3D surveillance helps and provides information to improve the processes here.
JW: Excellent. And those are very clear use cases, and they always say, if you’re going to develop a solution, an elegant solution solves a specific problem. And it sounds like with our 3D security and surveillance, the BLK247 accur8vision that we do that in the rail industry. Now, what’s interesting is, so you talk about, this sort of high fidelity, very accurate 3D, modern, 3D laser scanning surveillance capabilities and how they can be applied. And we talk about these modern control room solutions that provide situational awareness and the ability to respond. And so, what happens when we marry that together under the Hexagon family? And that brings me to the topic of the day. So, I want to mention to the audience, recently Hexagon announced a new security and surveillance platform that pre-integrates best of breed Hexagon solutions from across Hexagon Safety, Infrastructure & Geospatial and Hexagon Geosystems.
And this pre-integrated best of breed solutions provides a flexible solution to meet the full life cycle of incident management. And what do I mean by that? That’s everything from of detection, which is where the 3D security and surveillance comes into play, to assessment, which is situational awareness alarm acknowledgement, to response, which is what do we do to minimise the impact of incidents, or how do we respond to incidents in the field, and then collaboration, which is when we need to involve and communicate with other departments in the rail organisation, or with outside entities that span in within the service region. So, from detection to assessment, to response, to collaboration, the security and surveillance portfolio of Hexagon, and it’s made up of these key components that offer complete life cycle solution for incident management, it empowers operators to detect, assess, respond to threats and incidents.
And it also allows rail providers to collaborate with internal and external departments and organisations when needed. Real quick, I’ll summarise the pieces of this. So, from detection, you have the BLK247, and the accur8vision 3D security and surveillance solutions. When it comes to assessment, we have the HxGN OnCall Security | Guardian that does alarm management, IoT integration, and provides a common operating picture. For response and incident management, we have HxGN OnCall | Dispatch, which is a computer-aided dispatch solution that allows people to dispatch resources when incidents or unique events occur. Then you have HxGN Connect, which is our new secure cloud-based collaborative workspace, where you can communicate both with internal and external departments and organisations to receive, share data, collaborate, coordinate action. And then Hexagon Xalt | Integration, which provides that backbone, that plumbing that allows for diverse sensor IoT system and application integration.
So, we got all these great things across two different Hexagon divisions coming together and providing a nice solution for the rail industry and to be perfectly honest, even other security and surveillance applications as well. So, with all that said, Carl-Thomas, I’m going to start with you. What can you say about what this security and surveillance portfolio, what does it provide in terms of a differentiating advantage? What does it bring to the table to address current and future needs of rail organisations moving forward? What is the special sauce? What makes this portfolio unique? Carl Thomas?
CTS: Yes. I think one thing that makes us unique is this new type of sensors that we provide. I mentioned, this is a 3D surveillance device, but this is also an IoT device with integrated edge computing, which is something that brings us really on top of the crowd with what we can offer. And this leads to autonomy. That is something else that Hexagon provides. So, everything happens on the edge, on the device, all the calculation, the identification of critical events and so on, and only a very small set of information is sent to the control room. And this is a complete difference to video cameras that just permanently give you a video stream where you see everything, but it helps only when you look at it, but here we send only alarms or information. If there is really something critical, and this is new to the market, this is disruptive, and this is what Hexagon does. And this is the major differentiator.
JW: Thanks, and great description. And I assume Angelo, I’m going to propose the same question to you. We have this amazing, sort of new to the industry, 3D security and surveillance products provided by Hexagon Geosystems the fact that it’s pre-integrated into our situational awareness and response incident management solutions that we offer from the safety infrastructure and geospatial side. I mean, that’s a game changer, in my opinion, what do you think? What are some of the differentiating advantages that this portfolio of products that Hexagon provides brings to the table.
AG: I would say the offering of Hexagon is pretty unique in a sense that we can provide bits and pieces to create holistic security solution that allows rail orders and operators to protect infrastructure. So, we are not just providing specific software for specific application. We can cover all the needs from a secure perspective that may impact a railway organisation from protecting infrastructure, from protecting people, for as Carl-Thomas said, detect things happening on field by keeping also the privacy and 3D security systems are very important because especially in Europe where we have GDPR and we have a very high expectation in terms of privacy. It’s important that the technology can also help customer to meet these expectations. So, we have broad approach. We have bits and pieces to cover a potential holistic solution for safety and security, but we also can have a modular software or application that can help customer meet very specific needs.
So we are very flexible and we can definitely support our customer into a journey. I would say if I looked at the security, it is not just that you buy software and you’re done. It’s a journey that implies a redefinition of your processes. And for being successful in such a journey, you need to have good technology and excellent, very good technology, but also you need to count on player who has a very strong industry and domain Noel. That’s also an era where excellent can definitely be a differentiator against other solutions in the market.
JW: Excellent points. I agree with what both you said, and I understand what you mean. I’m taking customers on that journey, not only providing the technology and solutions, but also that domain expertise, that experience that’s unmatched. And I totally understand the Hexagon advantage when it comes to this. So, as we get ready to wrap up Angelo and Carl-Thomas, I want to propose, do you have any additional thoughts you’d like to share with us? Any predictions, trends, advice to those out there listening on how to take control of security and surveillance for the railroad organisation. Angelo, I’ll start with you.
AG: So, as I said, this journey to take in consideration all the cutting edge technology, we briefly mentioned 5G, IoT. All the new technologies are supporting autonomous technologies, which is definitely the direction where Hexagon is going, can provide more and more support to meet such an objective. Meaning the quantity of information to be managed and assessed in order to provide a good level of security of a critical infrastructure such as a railway is increasing on a very high speed. The most important thing is to be able to detect. And the only way to do that is through autonomous technologies powered with AI machine learning. And that’s exactly the direction Hexagon is going. We already have some component of artificial intelligence in our solution. Namely, we have a product called smart advisor, which is part of Hexagon call portfolio. And that’s definitely the direction we as an organisation are going, and we will see more and more this technology applying novel products in the future.
JW: Yeah, good points, Angelo. I totally agree. AI. And having that embedded capability inside of Hexagon on call dispatch is a game changer. And I know that there’s quite a bit of AI and machine learning embedded into the 3D security and surveillance stuff as well. So, Carl-Thomas, any predictions, trends, advice you’d like to the leave us with?
CTS: Yes. Maybe something. When we look at the journey, we heard this word already quite nicely often today, the journey the customers do when we look what happened in the past. So, there were just video cameras that were recording something that has happened, and then something went wrong. Someone looked at the videos to analyse and to avoid it in the future. What we have now and where we step in is that we can instantly make decisions because of our 3D surveillance. So, we don’t have to look what happened in the past or what just happened. We can immediately tell what is going on and what needs to be done. And when we look at extrapolate this in the future, then we will come to a situation where we can completely digitise everything around railway, like people flow. And I don’t mean just the assets. I mean, what happened at this moment?
So, we will be able to have a permanent digital twin on moving objects. And that would allow us to get a better understanding of people flow, traffic flow and so on. And we can then use extrapolation and AI to advise people when it’s best time to use the train, where to go, which platform. Maybe go to the end of the platform because we know what’s going on. And this will be a trend in the future that I see pretty clear in a couple of years that we get pretty good directions by using 3D surveillance and all the software that we provide from Hexagon.
JW: Excellent. And guys, once again, I appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedules. This has been a great conversation. I appreciate both of you for joining me and for all of you listening out there. Carl-Thomas, Angelo, I look forward to talking with you guys again, maybe on a future episode. And to everyone out there, thank you for tuning to HxGN Radio. For more great stories and podcasts, visit hxgnspotlight.com.