New Inspection Drone Rides the Tracks, Flies Away When a Train Appears

The fuel-cell-powered drone uses sensors onboard to detect changes on a railway track.
Fabienne Lang

Trundling along on a train enjoying the green landscape rushing past you, you might not be aware of the complex and regular maintenance railway tracks require to keep you safe. 

Ever since the first steam locomotive chugged along rails in England in 1804, trains and tracks have required attentive maintenance. It's oftentimes a tedious, time-consuming affair, and when it's done incorrectly, can cause fatal accidents, as a study published in the journal Frontiers in Building Environment pointed out.

This is precisely why the Norwegian company, Nordic Unmanned, created a track-inspecting drone that rides railways and flies off at the sign of a train. 

From alerting communities about oncoming tsunamis to guiding wayward elephants back to safety, drones are being used for myriad purposes around the world, and it's easy to see why they'd be used for railway maintenance, too.

The railway drone in question, the Staaker BG-300 Railway Robot, is a unique drone that can inspect critical sections of a railway track by driving on it, and if any oncoming traffic arrives, it can simply switch to flying mode and fly out of the way. It can then as easily drop back onto the tracks and continue working once the train has moved on.

The entire system aims to minimize time spent inspecting railway tracks and maximize safety.

The Staaker drone's specs

Nordic Unmanned explained that its fuel-cell-powered multicopter drone uses sensors onboard to automatically detect changes on a railway track, all while feeding live data back to the decision makers sitting comfortably in their office. It can easily glide along rails thanks to its four motorized rail wheels.

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The drone can work for approximately seven hours at a speed of 12.4 mph (20 km/h), and can cover a distance of up to 124 miles (200 km). It can easily switch from one railway track to another and, as mentioned, move out of the way for any oncoming traffic. 

Ultimately, sections of rail lines don't have to be blocked for inspection purposes, which is the typical way to carry out railway maintenance.

It has to be pointed out that drones and UAVs have been growing in popularity over the last few years when it comes to railway inspections. Exquinox's Drones explained that armies of drones have been used to inspect tracks from above, providing direct imaging and feedback as they fly over stretches of rails.

However, these drone armies hadn't been fitted out with wheels yet, making Nordic Unmanned's BG-300 drone a one-of-a-kind for the time being.

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