HoloRail: A Case Study of Augmented Reality in Train Dispatching
To read the full report on HoloRail, click here.
The United States is at a critical crossroads with its transportation infrastructure.
In late July, Senate Republicans and Democrats voted to push forward a $1 trillion infrastructure bill that would help rebuild antiquated transportation systems. Considering how critical transportation is in the U.S., this is good news.
Americans feel the effects of our outdated transportation infrastructure every day, so it makes sense that the infrastructure bill has been enormously popular with both parties. The 2021 American Society of Civil Engineers report on U.S. infrastructure emphasises the need for transportation network investment, citing:
"As this study shows, we risk significant economic losses, higher costs to consumers, businesses and manufacturers – and our quality of life – if we don’t act urgently. When we fail to invest in infrastructure, we pay the price.” - ASCE Executive Director Tom Smith
To create a more resilient transportation system, we can’t simply patch up old infrastructure. Leaders in transportation need to start thinking in new ways to prepare for the future.
The Future of Train Dispatching
Introba (formerly Ross & Baruzzini) received a grant from the Transportation Research Board to develop HoloRail. Our objectives were:
Test the usefulness of augmented reality (AR) technology as a train dispatcher’s user interface
Receive feedback from train dispatcher staff
Publish our results
Most train dispatchers use multimonitor 2D displays to keep trains and crews moving safely and efficiently across the railway network. However, the bulky equipment limits the layout of control theaters and ties dispatchers to one location.
HoloRail uses AR technology, which enhances the real world with computer-generated information, enables train dispatching in an interactive 3D environment. Virtual reality typically blocks users’ vision. But with AR, train dispatchers can still see and hear what’s going on around them. HoloRail lets dispatchers see informational panels above trains and get a more holistic view of track layouts thanks to the additional planes of movement the tech offers. HoloRail also enables dispatchers to use head and hand movements to manage track diagrams, alarms, train and station information, and so on.
Putting HoloRail to the Test
Staff from the Utah Transit Authority and Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority partnered with us on the project to determine its requirements, perform user testing, and provide feedback.
After 10 minutes of training, 90% of dispatchers learned to use the interface. About 80% said they would feel comfortable using HoloRail on the job. Given these positive results, we believe it is a viable future option after additional testing is completed.
The primary limitations we encountered involved the hardware. The headset battery, for instance, lasted two and a half hours during user testing. However, train dispatchers usually work eight-hour shifts.
Additionally, some dispatchers mentioned that the headset felt uncomfortable after an hour. The good news is the manufacturers are making significant improvements in wearability and battery life daily, improving the likelihood of AR technology adoption by train dispatchers in the future.
The Vast Potential for AR in Transportation
AR’s use cases in transportation don’t begin and end with train dispatchers. For example, AR also offers an exciting breakthrough in remote maintenance. Field technicians can wear AR headsets to collaborate with remote technicians who will be able to see what the field technician sees and highlight items in their line of sight. And when the technicians need information or specifications, they can simply overlay it on the dynamic display.
Additionally, there’s an opportunity to modify the train dispatching platform to work for bus dispatching. Such a platform could display 3D map views of bus locations, seamlessly integrate camera feeds, and communicate important information.
To meet our current and future needs, we must focus on technology adoption. At Introba, we’re committed to sensing and responding to disruption in the transportation industry in order to address emerging needs and usher in the future of intelligent transportation systems.
To learn more about our mobility team, check out our intelligent transportation systems projects as well as our work in rail and transit.
To read the full report on HoloRail, click here.
Megan Huff, PfMP is the vice president and managing principal of the Mobility Systems division of Ross & Baruzzini, a premier international technology consulting and engineering firm. With more than 20 years of experience in the transportation industry, Megan has an extensive track record in end-to-end delivery of complex, high-priority projects on tight schedules within mission-critical service organizations.
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