If you live in Chicago, you will take a train to get you where you need to go. Thousands of people commute from the suburbs to the city for work every day. Trains often (not all the time) are faster than driving a car on the frequently gridlocked I-90, I-290, and I-94 highways.
But so much train traffic poses dangers. Too often one hears about a bus, pedestrian or an automobile going across a railroad crossing right into the path of a speeding train. The results usually are fatal. So, when I read about an IoT prototype by HCL Industries for a railroad crossing barrier gate control system, I thought it was worth a look.
Basically, the IoT prototype is a LoRaWAN network consisting of piezoelectric train detectors installed at a distance of 2 km upstream and downstream of a railroad crossing barrier gate. The sensors are connected wirelessly to a gateway, which is connected to Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) network server via the cloud (WiFi / IP- 2G/3G/4G).
As a train drives toward a railway crossing gate, the piezoelectric detectors sense the vibration on the tracks, which is then converted into an electrical a signal and communicated to the gateway. The gateway transmits a low date rate message to the Network Server for analysis. Based upon the information sent to the server, the barrier gate is raised or lowered.
One of the reasons LoRa wireless technology was chosen for this IoT prototype is that it can be optimized for a range of about 15km, depending upon the size of the message. In addition, LoRaWAN communications can be encrypted for security. Finally, the piezoelectric train detectors can communicate across various frequencies (ISM bands).
Review: Build Smarter
I found the prototype an interesting way to employ IoT wireless technology for a mission-critical safety system in the transportation sector. It doesn't seem like it would be that expensive to deploy, either. But I wondered how reliable and failsafe this design would be as compared to what already exists? Also, what type of environmental protection and tamper-proofing systems would it possess?. (We can have severe winters in Chicago!)
When considering the broader application of an IoT-based railroad crossing barrier gate control, I felt this prototype was too narrow in scope. The detailed description of the prototype doesn't offer a solution for the full range of accidents occurring at unmanned railroad crossings. People often will go around a railroad crossing barrier gate that has been lowered. This is just a fact of life and human nature. This IoT prototype doesn't appear to provide collision deterrence. If a pedestrian or an automobile tried to go a around a lowered gate, it would be useful to provide the train operator with this information. Personally, I'd like to see this IoT prototype do more. In other words, be a smarter, more intelligent, train safety IoT system. What do you think?