Robots on the rails



Heriot-Watt is among the winners of a competition to apply robotics to railway stock maintainance.

Four academic projects have been selected by Rail Research UK Association (RRUKA) to explore the possibilities of using robotics and autonomous systems in rail.

This is a prime example of how robotics and autonomous systems can help with everyday tasks.
Professor David Lane

Proposals funded through this 'call for research' will develop blue-sky ideas about how to make use of robotic and/or autonomous systems to carry out rolling stock maintenance, servicing and inspections in order to reduce maintenance time and cost, and increase the reliability of inspections.

A project for a Cab Front Cleaning Robot, developed by Heriot-Watt and Cranfield Universities, will develop a prototype robot for train cab front cleaning. Current mechanised train washers cannot clean train front ends well because the front of the cab often consists of complicated shapes. This means that train cab front ends are still cleaned manually, creating a number of health and safety issues including working under 25kV overhead wires, working around electrified third rails, and working at height, especially problematic during the night and in bad weather. The robotic train cab front cleaner, developed by Dr Mustafa Suphi Erden, part of the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics, will eliminate these issues as well as saving costs.

Professor David Lane, Director of the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics, said, “This is a prime example of how robotics and autonomous systems can help with everyday tasks which have in the past posed problems or entailed people working in dangerous conditions. Congratulations to Dr Erden on winning the competiton by bringing the University's expertise to bear on this practical challenge.”

Luisa Moisio, Head of Research and Development at RSSB and RRUKA Industry Co-Chair commented: “A lot of the work which happens behind the scenes on the railway involves maintenance activities which require a high level of attention to detail in often dangerous conditions. This competition aimed to look at alternative options through the use of robotics and autonomous systems, to give universities the opportunity to learn more about the specific challenges facing the industry. We received a large number of high calibre proposals and look forward to seeing how the four chosen projects develop.”