American Robotics looks to get into the railway inspection business, with new Ondas acquisition of AI-Powered software company Ardenna
By Jim Magill
The CEO of American Robotics said a recent acquisition by its parent company, Ondas Holdings, will allow the developer of industrial drone solutions to add artificial-intelligence (AI) and machine-learning components to its existing drone-related software to offer track inspections and other services to the railway industry.
Last month, Ondas Holdings announced it had completed the acquisition of Ardenna, a leading provider of image processing and machine-learning software used for rail infrastructure monitoring and inspections. The merger will enable American Robotics to leverage its automated drone platform with Ardenna’s Rail-Inspector advanced analytics software, the Ondas announcement stated.
“Ardenna is the leading provider of image-processing and machine-learning software solutions for the rail industry,” said Reese Mozer, American Robotics co-founder and CEO. Developing drone-enabled solutions for the rail industry is a key market focus for both American Robotics and its sister company, Ondas Networks, Mozer said.
Although this combination will represent the first foray into the rail market for American Robotics, Ondas Networks currently serves a number of rail industry companies, including two of the largest, BNSF and CSX, he said.
“Together, American Robotics and Ardenna will deliver a solution that combines drones, automation, communications, AI and industry-specific analytics, providing the comprehensive data solution that the rail industry has been waiting for,” Mozer said.
American Robotics expects to begin to market its products to major rail industry companies, including Ardenna’s current customers, which include some of the largest freight railroad networks in North America.
Railroad companies, with miles of track stretching across the country and large physical assets such as locomotives and train cars, were among the first industrial adopters of drone technology for asset inspections.
BNSF Railway maintains its our own inhouse UAS program, which started in 2015. The railroad company currently has around 230 certified pilots with 250 active units in its program, which uses a wide range of drones for both visual line of sight (VLOS) and beyond VLOS operations.
Following the successful launch of its drone program in 2019, CSX, the leading supplier of rail-based freight transportation in North America, more than tripled its drone fleet, from 40 to 150 drones in 2020, with the goal of enhancing federally mandated operational testing and observations, company spokeswoman Cindy Schild said.
“This technology allows us to obtain high-resolution photos in areas that are difficult for inspectors to access, eliminating the need for field personnel to navigate through tough terrain,” she said.
American Robotics hopes to use Ardenna’s AI capabilities to tap into the railroad companies’ demand for more comprehensive data about the extent and health of their assets.
“Ardenna’s advanced image-processing and machine-learning software enables the autonomous Scout System by American Robotics to monitor and analyze rail infrastructure, providing valuable insights that reduce costs and enhance safety across the industry,” he said.
“The Ardenna acquisition brings industry-specific AI talent, a large data lake of high-resolution rail imagery, nearly a decade of R&D experience and a portfolio of over 30 analytics capabilities.”
Over the past nine years, Ardenna’s software has collected, processed and analyzed more than 28,000 miles of rail-track imagery. “This state-of-the-art rail inspection and monitoring software can be applied to a vast range of rail assets, including freight, passenger and industrial,” Mozer said.
Demand for track inspections
The market for UAV-related products to conduct rail-track inspections is huge, with hundreds of thousands of miles of track requiring monitoring and inspection on a regular basis to ensure safety.
Mozer cited an Association of American Railroads statistic that nearly 140,000 miles of rail network, hundreds of rail yards, and more than 61,000 Class I bridges are manually inspected for defects and structural integrity in the United States.
“A variety of issues can occur on these physical assets that increase the likelihood of derailment, such as broken rails, missing or damaged cross ties, improper rail spacing, and missing or damaged fasteners,” Mozer said.
Ardenna estimates that up to 90% of train derailments can be avoided with the proper implementation of frequent, drone-based inspections.
He said Ardenna’s Rail-Inspector software uses advanced machine learning and AI techniques to automatically detect potential track safety issues using high-resolution drone-based imagery. “Combined with automated drone technology, Ardenna’s advanced analytic software allows rail industry professionals to monitor assets and infrastructure with higher reliability, higher frequency and lower cost,” he said.
Ondas Holdings plans to offer the Ardenna Rail-Inspector software package as both a standalone product and as an integrated component of the American Robotics Scout platform. “The Scout System is already architected to ingest, process and transfer various types of image data. Using the proper payloads, a Scout Drone collects high-resolution image data of rail assets, and then transfers this data to the ScoutBase for processing at the edge,” Mozer said.
“Once this step is completed, processed data is transferred to the cloud for viewing, either through American Robotics’ front-end software, ScoutView, or via API.”
Read more about American Robotics:
American Robotics parent company Ondas Holdings [NYSE:ONDS] is one of the holdings in the AdvisorShares Drone Technology ETF, the only ETF dedicated to the drone economy. The AdvisorShares Drone Technology ETF (UAV) is a thematic investment strategy seeking to capture the growth opportunities in unmanned aerial vehicles (aka drones) and autonomous vehicles (AV).
Jim Magill is a Houston-based writer with almost a quarter-century of experience covering technical and economic developments in the oil and gas industry. After retiring in December 2019 as a senior editor with S&P Global Platts, Jim began writing about emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, robots and drones, and the ways in which they’re contributing to our society. In addition to DroneLife, Jim is a contributor to Forbes.com and his work has appeared in the Houston Chronicle, U.S. News & World Report, and Unmanned Systems, a publication of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.
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