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“Ground-breaking” New Drone Created to Inspect Railways

August 26, 2021

For years, unmanned autonomous systems (UAS) have been used to remove humans from dangerous, but necessary jobs and drones are no exception. In fact, these modern unpiloted aircrafts are now being used to monitor the wellbeing of one of the earliest modes of transportation—railroads.

Nordic Unmanned, a Norwegian UAS company that “delivers tailor made drone services in 13+ European countries,” invented the Staaker BG-300 Railway Drone to monitor railroads to reduce the risk to workers and minimize the impact of maintenance on train schedules1. Called “ground-breaking” by sUAS News, this new model of drone solves the two aforementioned problems by switching between riding the railroad when clear and flying above the tracks when a rain is oncoming to perform essential inspection and maintenance so workers no longer need to dangerously inspect the tracks at night or when train schedules are lighter2,3.

“Our ambition is to make rail maintenance and inspection far more efficient, safe and environmentally friendly. We’re already working with railways, and we see extremely exciting opportunities for drones in this market. Rail infrastructure will form a sizeable part of our 2025 growth strategy,” said Knut Roar Wiig, CEO of Nordic Unmanned, in a FuelCellsWorks article4.

‘“Railway tracks, or “fixed asset,” are continuous, safety-critical elements, and inevitably require “track integrity assurance,” which assembles the coordinated activities for any track engineering department to identify and underpin safety and reliability prior to realizing values from the track assets,” wrote three members of the University of Birmingham’s Department of Engineering in a paper titled The Total Track Inspection5.

The Staaker, a “fuel-celled-powered multicopter drone” performs track integrity assurance using built-in sensors to find issues on the rails and relay that data to professionals in real-time for up to 7 hours or 124 miles1,3,6. Drones have previously been used to monitor railroads, but until now, have only been able to fly above tracks. The rubber wheels of the Staaker allow it to literally ride the tracks and closely inspect them with the added benefit of being able to take flight at a moments notice or switch tracks after sensing traffic.

“When we founded Nordic Unmanned in 2014, we drew inspiration from the way subsea [Remotely Operated Vehicle] ROVs had revolutionized the offshore oil and gas industry, making subsea work much safer, less expensive and a lot more digital. Our vision was to repeat this transformation, but this time up in the air and implemented much faster...The more we worked on our business plan, the more convinced we became on the versatility of drones for several other professional applications,” said Knut Roar Wiig, Nordic Unmanned’s Chief Executive Officer in the company’s 2020 Annual Report. “I continue to see tremendous advantages in the use of drones in various roles. Drones are safer, less expensive, and better for the environment than manned helicopters and planes.1

Nordic Unmanned plans to have The Staaker commercially available in Europe for the beginning of 2022. Click here to watch the new drone in action.

Photo credit: Nordic Unmanned

References

  1. Nordic Unmanned. (2019). Nordic Unmanned. Retrieved from https://nordicunmanned.com/projects/railway-drone/.
  2. sUAS News. (2021, August 24). Nordic Unmanned unveils the Staaker BG-300 Railway Drone. Retrieved from https://www.suasnews.com/2021/08/nordic-unmanned-unveils-the-staaker-bg-300-railway-drone/.
  3. Coxworth, B. (2021, August 24). Track-inspection drone rides the rails, and flies away from trains. Retrieved from https://newatlas.com/drones/staaker-bg-300-railway-inspection-drone/.
  4. FuelCellsWorks. (2021, August 17). Nordic Unmanned Unveils the Hydrogen Fuel Cell Powered Staaker Railway Drone. Retrieved from https://fuelcellsworks.com/news/nordic-unmanned-unveils-the-hydrogen-fuel-cell-powered-staaker-railway-drone/.
  5. Kaewunruen, S., Osman, M., & Rungskunroch, P. (2019, January 9). The Total Track Inspection. Retrieved from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fbuil.2018.00084/full.
  6. Lang, F. (2021, August 25). The fuel-cell-powered drone uses sensors onboard to detect changes on a railway track. Retrieved from https://interestingengineering.com/new-inspection-drone-rides-the-tracks-flies-away-when-a-train-appears.
  7. Nordic Unmanned. (2020). European leader of unmanned systems and services. Retrieved from https://nordicunmanned.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Annual-Report-2020.pdf.