Railway systems are crucial for transporting goods and people in numerous countries, and Japan has been at the forefront of rail technology for decades. However, maintaining railway tracks and equipment remains a significant challenge when your rail system is so developed.

Hitachi aims to revolutionize maintenance operations by leveraging Artificial Intelligence (AI) and metaverse technologies. We explored Hitachi’s approach to railway maintenance, which was recently showcased at CEATEC 2023.

Hitachi is moving beyond the traditional parameters of 3D virtual space to create a seamless information-sharing environment. This virtual space facilitates consensus building (a very important concept in Japan) and technology transfer in railway maintenance. One of Hitachi’s strengths lies in combining AI and inspection data—comprising both images and measurements.

How It Works

  • Data Collection: Initially, a train equipped with a front-facing camera runs on the tracks to collect data in their normal condition.
  • Comparative Analysis: As equipment wears out over time—like the corrosion of sleepers placed under the rails—a train with a camera captures the affected areas during subsequent runs.
  • AI Detection: The AI algorithms compare images from the initial and later runs to automatically detect abnormalities, such as corrosion, or even rare conditions like rails emitting smoke.
  • Metaverse Integration: These detected abnormalities are then reproduced in a metaverse—a virtual space—where the tracks are color-coded. Green signifies a normal condition, and red indicates areas that require maintenance.

The advantages of Hitachi’s technology are multi-faceted. For one, maintenance crews can rapidly identify which tracks require attention, thereby speeding up the process of diagnosis and repair.

In addition to speeding up identification, the metaverse is a valuable educational and training tool. New workers can gain “hands-on experience” dealing with various abnormal conditions that are generally difficult to simulate in a real-world setting. Lastly, the technology addresses some of the limitations of physical infrastructure.

While it may not be feasible to color-code tracks in the real world for easy identification of issues, this limitation is elegantly sidestepped in the metaverse’s virtual environment. Together, these benefits contribute to a more efficient and safer railway maintenance operation.

At CEATEC, Hitachi showcased the experience and value of this technology in transforming railway maintenance. I was most interested in the training potential as it is one of the best use cases for virtual spaces. Some things must be “lived” to be understood, and using 3D spaces is the most cost-efficient way to gain a realistic experience.

Hitachi’s integration of AI and metaverse technologies offers a promising approach to tackling the complexities and sheer size of railway equipment maintenance. By enabling quick identification of problematic areas and serving as an effective training tool, this technology stands to improve the efficiency and safety of railway operations, especially in a time when there’s a shortage of professional manpower. You can learn more by reading this insightful interview I found online.

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