Thales and Vodafone Test “No-Driver” Trains Using 5G

(26 Sep 2019, BWCS Staff)

Defence and transport giant, Thales, has joined forces with Vodafone to test-run a driverless train controlled via a 5G mobile signal. The pair claim that the trial constitutes a first in this field. It was carried out at the “Smart Rail Connectivity Campus” in Germany, which is a joint project of more than 100 industry and academic partners led by the Technical University of Chemnitz and with the participation of Erzgebirge Railway.

The driverless trains were set loose on the trial track in Erzgebirge where Vodafone has installed some 5G base stations. The mobile operator said it connected up Thales’s “Lucy” test train using 5G Network Slicing. This enables different virtual networks to share a physical network structure, and provides a separate 5G link solely for the rail trials. The use of slicing thereby ensures that mobile radio capacities are always available to keep control of the train. This can be maintained even if many other users are trying to access the base stations at the same time.

The train to shore data was apparently processed locally on-site in a small data centre close by the mobile base station via a Mobile Edge Cloud. Due partly to this proximity, the signals and data can be processed without delay. Thales and Vodafone reported that the 5G technology enables bandwidths greater than 500Mbps on the test track and reduces the latency to less than 10 milliseconds.

Thales has provided the control and safety systems for the 5G project in the Erzgebirge system. This includes the installation of the test environment and sensors, along with a remote control system for the train in co-operation with the German Aerospace Centre and Railergy. A spokesman for Vodafone said the company was claiming this as a first for 5G.

Yves Joannic, MD at Thales in Germany and responsible for the company’s Transportation Division, said “5G opens up a whole world of new possibilities. Up to and including 4G, consumers were the first to benefit from every new generation of wireless technologies. By contrast, 5G’s main interest lies in B2B markets. This next generation of mobile technology will be the foundation for the digital transformation of B2B and, in the broadest sense, will be the backbone of industrial operations, which will benefit the rail sector in particular.”

Clearly, given the number of blackspots regularly encountered alongside rail tracks across Europe, the networks still have some expanding to do before such mobile-driven, driverless technology becomes the norm. Meanwhile, Thales and Vodafone have vowed to explore further possibilities of 5G in the train sector.

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