Vecow Embedded Computer Suits Digital Rail Applications
October 25, 2023
From afar, you may not notice a big difference between the railroad cars today and those that ran down the track a couple of decades ago. However, you can be assured that when you peel back the skin, there are massive differences that have occurred, specifically with respect to the on-board computer systems.
Whereas 20 years ago, there may not have been much in the way of on-board computing, it’s vastly different today. On-board computers in the rail industry can solve an array of problems and offer numerous benefits, while simultaneously reducing operating costs.
On-board computers are transforming the rail industry, adding features that were never before possible.
These computers are equipped with software and hardware that’s specific to this industry and can perform functions that generally only appear in the rail space. That said, the brains behind them, the embedded computer, is a mainstream platform in most instances, albeit a high-performing model.
Some of the areas where the computers play a key role in rail applications include:
- Safety enhancements
- Speed regulation
- Maintenance and diagnostics
- Passenger comfort and experience
- Route optimization
- Communication and connectivity
- Environmental impact reduction
- Compliance and reporting
- Emergency response
Let’s go through the impact of digitization on each of these areas. In terms of safety, on-board computers can use sensors and cameras to detect obstacles or other trains on the track and automatically apply brakes or take corrective actions to prevent collisions. Those same sensors can also detect defects or obstructions, providing early warnings for maintenance or repairs. Finally, the on-board computers can monitor speed limits and apply brakes when necessary to ensure that trains are operating within safe speed limits. Note that this can be monitored remotely as well.
A Continual Upgrade
The on-board computers are continually collecting and transmitting real-time data on train performance, allowing for proactive maintenance and scheduling optimizations. They can run self-diagnostics to identify and report faults or malfunctions in real-time, allowing for quick troubleshooting.
At the same time, fuel consumption can be optimized for maximum efficiency by adjusting engine performance based on the train's load and terrain. Simultaneously, the on-board computers can optimize engine performance to reduce emissions and contribute to environmental sustainability.
On-board cameras can monitor train interiors and exteriors for security purposes, deterring vandalism and theft. And the computers could trigger alarms in case of unauthorized access or suspicious activities. In the event of an accident or emergency, safety protocols can be implemented, such as stopping the train, shutting down power, or sending out distress signals, based on the level/severity of the emergency.
Designed to handle the rigors of rail applications, the Vecow ECX-3200MX PEG high-performance embedded computing platform is designed with an Intel Core i9-13900E processor.
Passengers would get increased comfort thanks to cabin temperatures and lighting that’s automatically regulated. And digitized trains would have far better entertainment options, including In-carriage wireless connectivity, and up-to-the-minute travel information. And with its on-board GPS systems, the trains could report their locations and travel times to the central control center for logging and management. What passengers may not notice is that vehicle operation is far more stable and highly available throughout their journey.
On-board computers enable constant communication with central control systems for tracking train locations, managing schedules, and responding to emergencies. And they would automatically record and report data on speed, route, and other critical information for regulatory compliance and incident analysis.
Designing From Scratch
If you’re designing a system for a new deployment, as opposed to retrofitting an existing installment, a host of key features should be on the “must have” list. They include:
- The fastest and most up-to-date computing platform that’s ready to tackle real-time AI inferencing
- Support for multiple high-speed data transfers and vision
- The ability to handle real-time and non-stop wireless communications during every trip
- A form factor that can operate in a very limited space
- A rugged design
- Remote management support
- Suitable redundancy for backup purposes
The Vecow ECX-3200MX platform has the compute power to handle advanced AI and inferencing.
Keep in mind that the same characteristics apply when a system is being upgraded, rather than designed from scratch. While the upgrade route is sometimes more difficult, it can also result in a cost savings.
A Ready-Made Solution For Rail
The Vecow ECX-3200MX PEG high-performance embedded computing platform can handle the stated tasks, and is poised for future growth. It is based on the Intel Core i9-13900E processor (Raptor Lake-S) running with Intel’s R680E PCH, which ensures that it can handle all the needs, including advanced AI and inferencing. Other features include remote management functionality, and the use of Intel vPro, TCC, TSN, and TPM 2.0, to provide secure real-time in-carriage monitoring and controlling during transit.
The computer is designed to operate with 4.8-GHz DDR 5 memory, and contains a PCIe x16 expansion slot that supports a maximum 200-W power budget for a discrete graphics card or an AI accelerator. For graphics, the integrated NVIDIA Tesla T4 graphics card is designed with a customized hold-down bracket for rugged rail applications. Multiple rugged and lockable X-coded M12 connectors are optimized for in-vehicle operation to reduce or eliminate loose connections.
An array of I/O options are available on the ECX-3200MX embedded computer.
I/O is handled through four independent 2.5-Gbit/s LAN interfaces and two independent 1-Gbit/s interfaces. That’s in addition to six USB 3.2 Gen 2 and one USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 for high-speed data transmission. High-speed video can be captured over a PoE+ LAN. Three external SIM card sockets support multiple 5G or Wi-Fi 6 connections serving seamless wireless data transfer to a remote control center.
A wide DC input voltage range, from 12 to 50 V, supports most rail standards. The ECX-3200MX PEG’s chassis is designed to railway specifications. It’s also EN50155 and EN50121-3-2 certified. And the customized front panel is designed with air ducts to maximize heat dissipation.
Digital rail applications are here today. The right embedded computer is required to take advantage of its features.
Note that much of the information presented here was derived from a real-world example, where the Vecow has been deployed. The customer is located in one of the world’s most modern cities in northeastern Asia.
When considering computing platforms for rail applications, be sure to consider needs today and down the road. Look for a supplier with the necessary expertise, experience, and reputation in this application. That supplier should also have a proven track record, extensive tech support, and the ability and willingness to offer a custom approach that can be upgraded and future-proofed. Vecow meets all of these needs.