My idea is to develop an electrically powered rail collision avoidance drone. The drone would precede the main locomotive by a sufficient, speed and grade dependant, distance to initiate an emergency stop in advance of an imminent collision or derailment. To achieve the solution would require a fast acceleration rail-borne electrically powered drone. The drone would have the ability to re-charge from the main locomotive when travelling through lower risk-free areas such as terminals or sidings. The drone would be equipped with a camera offering the locomotive engineer a look-ahead view of the track. It could be designed to hold temporarily at controlled or uncontrolled rail crossings also offering the engineer an advance view of that crossing. As the locomotive approaches the drone would accelerate out of that zone. There are also significant technology transfers possible to the drone including GPS, IR imaging and other remote sensing devices. While its main function would be collision avoidance the drone could be instrumented to provide advance live track condition assessment through additional instrumentation.
Given the increased concerns with the rail traffic of dangerous goods and a significant loss of life in developing countries the potential benefits to society are significant. There would be minimal technical modifications to the “mated” locomotives besides a radio connection to that unit’s governor/brake system. The drone could also provide a supervisory level control on the locomotive ensuring safe speeds through pre-defined zones or turns. It could also function as an independent “black box” for recording anomalies in the main engine. Different drone models could be offered depending on the degree of sophistication. A “dispensable” model would alert the locomotive of a collision by its own reduced impact collision to another engine or track obstacle. A more fully instrumented unit would avoid any collision, front or rear end, through a combination of visual sensing and fleet-wide communications with other locomotives within range.