Telefónica, Ineco, Adif and Huawei implement a remote inspection solution for railway tracks in Galicia based on 5G and drones

Telefónica's 5G project, developed with the collaboration of Ineco, Adif and Huawei, has made it possible to implement a remote track inspection solution using 5G and drones in Ourense and Pontevedra (Galicia). This is the first experience of flight beyond the drone pilot's line of sight (BVLOS- Beyond Visual Line Of Sight) with 5G technology for infrastructure inspection.

This is one of the winning projects of the first call for aid by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Digital Transformation in the development of the 5G, co-financed by with ERDF funds and aims to digitise railway infrastructure inspection tasks to make them more efficient.

Specifically, the service allows a drone outfitted with high-resolution cameras and a 5G modem to be remotely piloted to gather images of the Adif railways as they pass through the towns of Barra do Miño (Ourense), Os Peares (Ourense) and Filgueira (Pontevedra) and transmit them in real time thanks to the new 5G technology. These images are also processed with Artificial Intelligence (AI) which makes it possible to automate track inspection.

To achieve this, 5G coverage has been deployed on two railway routes, each approximately 10 km long (Monforte de Lemos-Ourense and Ourense-Guillarei) and a drone was outfitted with 5G connectivity and multiple cameras: one with 360-degree vision, another for inspection with 4K resolution and a powerful zoom, and a third for BVLOS remote piloting.

The low latency and high bandwidth provided by 5G is vital for immediate response for remote control of the drone as well as for sending high quality video streams. In addition, the Artificial Intelligence algorithm housed in the edge (computing capacity located inside Telefónica's network, which processes the data near the source that generates it to reduce latency) is capable of detecting different track elements by recording their position

The use case also includes an application for virtual reality Oculus glasses that allows integrated viewing of the images from the inspection camera and the drone telemetry data in a single device with a 360° view, thus enriching the remote inspection work.

This remote control will make it possible simplify railway inspections and make them less frequent; enable inspection in inaccessible places; increase safety; reduce technical visits; obtain information in addition what is gathered during a visual inspection; automate the detection of track elements using AI and increase the speed of response in the event of unforeseen events.

In this project, Telefónica defined and developed the end-to-end solution; Ineco developed the drone's on-board systems, the BVLOS control and the AI; Huawei provided the 5G and computing infrastructure, and Adif participated as a client and end user of the solution, providing the necessary railway infrastructure, as well as defining and testing the different use cases in collaboration with the other partners.

As Mercedes Fernández, Innovation Manager at Telefónica Spain, pointed out, "Telefónica is promoting the testing of 5G technology in parallel with the implementation of use cases in real environments and in collaboration with its clients. The experience of remote and real time railway inspection that we developed and tested in Galicia in recent months is in line with the objective of accompanying the deployment of our 5G network with the implementation of services and processes that are useful for our clients".

For Javier Carvajal, expert in Smart Products, and Natalia Díaz, the manager of the Innovation and Technology Watch area: "at Ineco we have integrated the systems necessary to safely carry out remote drone flights, taking advantage of the low latency of 5G technology. At the same time, artificial intelligence processes have been implemented, making use of the improvements provided by edge computing, which allows real-time recognition and inventory of track elements".

Adif highlights that "the remote, real-time inspection made possible by 5G technology will speed up decision-making in different situations that may arise in the future and will make it possible to reduce costs by not requiring travel by technical staff. In short, it expands the possibilities for seeking new applications that allow for improved management of maintenance and assets associated with railway infrastructure".

The participation of the companies of the MITMA Group (Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda), Adif and Ineco, in this project is part of the Axis 5 Intelligent Mobility which covers aspects related to Innovation/digitalisation of infrastructure as part of the Mobility Strategy.

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