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Lumibird Canada and partners complete lidar rail safety prototype

19 Jan 2022

OnTRAC is a rail industry-focused optical sensor system co-developed in Canada with Thales and partners.

Lumibird Canada, an Ottawa-based designer and manufacturer of lidar systems; Thales, a global player in digital technologies; and Lassonde School of Engineering at York University have completed their OnTRAC project, a 30-month program to prototype an optical sensor fusion system, based on established lidar technology.

The system is designed to be integrated with autonomous rail vehicles for the purpose of Obstacle Detection, Classification and Tracking (OCDT) in varying weather conditions.

Beginning in 2019, the partnership first performed an investigative study of the challenges and threats posed to autonomous rail vehicles, then developed a novel sensor architecture, resulting in a new prototype lidar system specifically designed for fleet rail vehicles, and finally concluded the project in 2021 with safety and operational assessment – featuring in-situ rail demonstrations – in typical and adverse weather conditions.

Leveraging the established Opal 3D lidar product family, the completion of this project, described as “successful” by the partners, has resulted in an integrated suite of different vision sensors, notably a novel, scalable, 3D lidar design, with deep learning and artificial intelligence algorithms for object detection, classification and tracking in a systems architecture that addresses the stringent safety needs and performance requirements for autonomous rail operation.

The partners say their novel system will support the development of safe, autonomous urban rail systems, to make rail transport more efficient, less costly to operate, and capable of 24/7 functionality while minimizing accidents due to lack of experience/training, fatigue, and other related effects that affect human operators.

The results of this project provide the foundation for commercializing ODCT solutions as part of Canada’s next-generation autonomous rail signaling and control products; and hence represent an important step in securing Canadian technology leadership and exports in the global autonomous systems market.

“The OnTRAC project is a great example of how Ontario is committed to supporting innovation and collaboration to accelerate the development of next-generation autonomous vehicle technologies,” said Vic Fedeli, Ontario’s Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade.

Opal 3D lidar range

“Autonomous technologies have the potential to improve safety and make rail travel more efficient and reliable in varying weather conditions. Ontario is pleased to support this innovative project by OnTRAC through OVIN,” commented Caroline Mulroney, Minister of Transportation.

“It is our hope that the systems and products developed here will enable commercialization activities by all partners in the autonomous rail and other autonomous systems markets, like automotive, which will in-turn support the creation of hundreds of new jobs at both the collaborators and in its suppliers throughout Ontario,” said Nick Cristello, Operations Director, at Lumibird Canada.

Dr. Gunho Sohn, Associate Professor in the Earth and Space Science and Engineering department at the Lassonde School of Engineering at York University, commented, “Through the OnTRAC project, my research team at Lassonde School of Engineering has had an opportunity to collaborate with Thales and Lumibird Canada, for exploring the ways that artificial intelligence can be used safely and reliably in rail transportation by addressing various deficiencies in current autonomous rail control and signalling technology.

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