Geo Week News

May 27, 2015

SNCF Crowdsources 3D Solutions for Rail

sncf scan

There seems to be no problem that can’t be solved by some sensors and a little bit of ingenuity, or at least French rail company SNCF seems to feel that way. As part of their Digital Challenge, they’re presenting a number of infrastructure problems to the public and asking for innovative solutions using all kinds of sensors and technologies. Their contest page mentions everything from cheap consumer hardware to high-end 3D tech.

SNCF describes one of the challenge groupings, “Connected Infrastructure”, like this: “Rail infrastructure circulates 15,000 trains every day on 30,000km of track. The physical network is being digitized today with 3D data capture infrastructure by ground scanners and drones, and tomorrow with the Internet of Things and predictive maintenance of railway facilities.” (My girlfriend kindly supplied the translations in this article.)

SNCF’s willingness to go to the public seems important–it’s not often that this kind of large company depends on public ingenuity to find solutions for such large and critical problems. Think of it as crowdsourcing an innovative solution to challenges that affects everyone.

The second challenge: Create a Prototype of Data Capture with Open Hardware is probably the most interesting of the bunch.

SNCF explains that the geolocalization methods they employ can’t be coupled with 3D measurements (they don’t mention why this would be.) The solution, as SNCF sees it, is to use low-cost modules like Arduino, Raspberry Pi and so on to create a low-cost way to interface their geolocalization and 3D measurements.

Using these tools popular within the maker movement, SNCF hopes the winner of the challenge will “create a data capture prototype that permits the combination of a position on the Earth as well as an indicator measuring the quality of the position measured.”

Even more rare than a national railway system asking for help from the public is a national railway system asking for help from the public using low-cost consumer devices. I can’t imagine that SNCF is the only company thinking this way.

The third challenge: Create a Device to Assist with Maintenance Using Smart Equipment follows the same theme. Since engineers are always making site visits and taking notes by hand (which we here at SPAR are against), SNCF wants to equip them with devices that allow them “input data as close as possible to their observations.”

In other words, they’re asking for new, specific devices to be developed for specific uses. Rather than a one-size-fits-all solution, they “envisage other equipment for specific efforts.”

I wonder if we’ll see any other crowdsourcing like this in the future. Tapping into the wisdom of the crowd to solve a public problem might not be such a bad idea.

Want more stories like this? Subscribe today!

Read Next

Related Articles


Join the Discussion