Now, track project progress with drones (Indian Railways did it!)

With growing industrial development and increasing population, the role of railways in transportation is going to be crucial in the coming years. This could be the premise that encouraged the Indian government to explore the various solutions that could be achieved using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). The Rail Budget 2016 announced that drones and geospatial based satellite technology will be used to monitor the physical progress of various railway projects.

Indian Railways, with an aim to introduce technological solutions for project management and monitoring, employed AIRPIX to avail UAV solutions for its 25 km long Seawoods-Belapur-Uran project. Central Railways wanted to expedite progress of the project. For the same, they approached AIRPIX, a Mumbai-based UAV survey solutions provider, to explore potential solutions using UAVs.

The solution included data capturing using UAVs and data analytics to derive insights about the project status. The data acquisition was completed within two days and processed outputs were generated including orthophoto, DEM and overlay of design data on the base processed imagery for observing the status of completion at different locations of the project, inventory at site and bottlenecks.

Indian Railways is further planning to implement this solution in projects all across India.

The AIRPIX team first carried out a site reconnaissance along the entire alignment with the railway officials to understand the site conditions and feasibility, and to identify the take-off and landing zones. GCPs (Ground Control Points) were laid at every 250-m interval. Reliable GCPs in the correct intervals are crucial for precise orthorectification, i.e., geometrical correction of the aerial images. Based on the site observations, the AIRPIX team decided to deploy its multi-rotor UAV with a 16 MP camera. The UAV’s computer was fed with multiple Way Points as per the planned missions to autonomously fly exactly above the laid track route and capture data at 3.1 cm GSD (Ground Sampling Distance).

The autonomous flights ensured that the desired overlap was achieved and the entire data collection (including GCP laying and coordinate recording) was completed within two days.

The processed outputs helped the railway officials to present to their higher management the exact status of a project without having them to visit the site physically. The imagery could provide details of even sleepers and other inventory present at the site. The data overlay on Google Earth helped them access the complete design data (such as curve details, gradients, RUB, ROB and bridge specifications, station details etc.,) without having to refer to the hard copy of their project data sheet. The base layer of imagery helped them to relate to it better since the information was overlaid at the exact position on ground as the model was orthorectified and geo-referenced. Apart from this project, Indian Railways has utilised drones in other projects also such as Dedicated Freight Corridors to record videos of the existing status of the construction and other details on ground.

The solution provided by AIRPIX using UAVs will contribute in establishing a system that will facilitate a better way to monitor project progress of railway projects. Currently, there is no provision of visually recording the project status and the current report formats also do not have provision for taking out measurements from them. The data collected by UAVs and the processed data will help derive such insights that are critical in identifying bottlenecks and speed up project completion.

Comparison of progress (such as the amount of earthwork done, number of sleepers laid, status of bridge/station construction) at specific exact locations along the alignment is possible since the model is geo-referenced. Such data acquired across all the projects in India over a period of time will help generate trends in project progress and bottlenecks in all the railway projects in India.