In New Zealand, digital shields along the tracks to protect jobs

Thanks to laser scanners, the KiwiRail company has created virtual 3D barriers for excavators near railway lines and high voltage cables

Digital shields: KiwiRail's "digital shields" are used to protect excavator drivers from overhead power lines and other sensitive or hazardous areas such as live rail corridors
KiwiRail's digital shields are used to protect excavator drivers from overhead power lines and other sensitive or hazardous areas such as live rail corridors
(Photo: KiwiRail)

A New Zealand company, the KiwiRail, is experimenting with the use of real digital screens in the context of the works in and near the railway lines.

These shields, as effective as they are obtained virtually, help protect workers and the technical infrastructures within which they transit the trainswhile reducing the impact on passengers during the works.

This cutting edge technology is developed during the design of the double track line between Trentham and Upper Hutt, which is operated by KiwiRail in the Wellington region.

Digital shields are used to protect excavator drivers from overhead power lines and other sensitive or hazardous areas such as railway corridors in tension.

This occurs by blocking the controls of the scrapers in the event of an element of the mechanical shovel getting too close.

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Digital shields: if the excavator comes into contact with a point on KiwiRail's digital shield, a signal is sent to the hydraulic system and its commands are immediately blocked to protect those who work (Photo: KiwiRail)
If the excavator comes into contact with a point on the KiwiRail digital shield, a signal is sent to the hydraulic system and its commands are immediately blocked to protect those who work
(Photo: KiwiRail)

Mechanical shovels connected to very high precision GPS units

The screens are made by creating a virtual twin of the physical environment, using a laser scanner.

This sensing technique collects millions of data points, which are then used to build a 3D digital model.

Modeling allows you to create digital shields at a predetermined distance from the location of real objects.

Once the 'digital shield' is created, this information is sent to a computer on board the excavator, which is linked to a GPS unit.

The mechanical shovel control system knows where the machinery is and, through a series of sensors, learns what its shape is and where the shield is located.

If the excavator makes contact with a point on the digital shield, a signal is sent to the hydraulic system and its controls are immediately locked out, preventing the machine from getting too close to the real danger.

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Digital shields: KiwiRail shields, as effective as they are obtained virtually, help protect workers and the technical infrastructure within which trains pass, while reducing the impact on passengers during processing
KiwiRail shields, as effective as they are obtained virtually, help protect workers and the technical infrastructure within which trains pass, while reducing the impact on passengers during processing
(Photo: KiwiRail)

First tests on refurbished double track from Trentham to Upper Hutt

The technology used to create the digital shield pioneered on the Trentham to Upper Hutt line in New Zealand can be fitted to most modern excavators.

Not only that: it differs from other risk protection systems in that it is a real three-dimensional means of protection, and this unlike geofencing or rotation blocks and height limiters.

It can be applied interchangeably to underground pipes and cables and to other above-ground elements.

Alternatively, it can be used to protect newly built elements, preventing accidental damage and rework.

In collaboration with project partners Downer NZ, Robertson Battock Civil, SITECH Construction Systems and CablePrice, KiwiRail has therefore literally merged the real and digital worlds using Trimble Inc systems and protecting the work crews

KiwiRail is evaluating the feasibility of using the shields in other locations where construction is taking place along the railway lines, including those surrounding the capital Auckland.

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Digital shields: KiwiRail's "digital shields" are used to protect excavator drivers from overhead power lines and other sensitive or hazardous areas such as live rail corridors
KiwiRail's digital shields are used to protect excavator drivers from overhead power lines and other sensitive or hazardous areas such as live rail corridors (Photo: KiwiRail)