IoT, Internet of Things and Indian Railways

On 26th February 2015, Shri Suresh Prabhu, Minister for Railways presented the Rail Budget in Lok Sabha, which was hailed by the Prime Minister for the technology-driven measures announced. The PM said, “I am particularly delighted that for the first time there is a concrete vision for technology upgradation & modernisation of the Railways,” The Rail Budget 2015 proposed all-embracing use of Information Technology and eGovernance initiatives in Railway functioning, from SMS alert service for passengers, provision for Wi-Fi at Railway Stations, digitised mapping of rail land. Corporate India termed the budget, as ‘Technology-Enabled Traveller-Centric’.

 

Some of the technology initiatives that were announced:

 

  • Open Wi-Fi would  be made available at 400 railway stations across the country
  • Digitised mapping of Rail land will be initiated to counter encroachment.
  •  An integrated customer portal is being put in place for customers to access various railway services at one place
  • An ‘Operation five minutes’ will be introduced for issuing unreserved tickets. Under this facility, ticketless passengers can get regular tickets within five minutes of entering station. Unreserved ticket purchase is also expected to be made simpler through smart phones and debit cards
  •  SMS alert service would be introduced to inform passengers about train arrival and departure
  •  Mobile charging facility would be made available in all trains and stations. The facility will be extended to general coaches as well.
  • Railway helpline number 138 will become operational 24×7. Toll free number 182 will be created for security related complaints.
  • CCTVs to be introduced in select trains and suburban trains for women safety
  • E-catering will be launched for select meals from an array of choices, ordering food through IRCTC websites at the time of booking tickets.

 

During July 2014, it was envisaged that the Indian Railways will opt for an enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution, which will integrate freight, passenger, human resources and administrative operations across the country. Features like real-time monitoring of trains, mobile-based wake up call for passengers and destination arrival alerts, and station navigation information system would be taken forward. Thus the potential for the IT industry to leverage existing strengths in cloud, mobility and IoT (Internet of Things) for the Railways. In the Proposed Investment Plan (2015-2019), Information Technology/Research has been assigned Rs 5,000 crore. There will be an integration of train control and asset management applications.

According to Gartner, by the 2020, there will be 26 billion devices connected to the internet. Gartner further estimates that IoT products and services will generate revenue exceeding $300 billion in 2020. IDC on the other hand has forecast that the worldwide market for IoT solutions will grow to $7.1 trillion in 2020. In a 2012 study by Beecham Research for Oracle, several verticals were identified that would benefit from machine to machine (M2M) device connectivity and create the IoT ecosystem. These were connected smartphones to cars to homes, commercial buildings, retail, industrial, IT facilities, etc.

 

 
Image courtesy: http://www.audiotech.com/trends-magazine/images/articles/2014/10/pg36.png 
Figure I: 2020 and the INTERNET of Things

 

The National Transport Development Policy Committee submitted its report in 2014, in which they have envisaged a smart transport system, which is depicted in Figure II.

 

 Sensors_NTDPC

 

Figure II- A Spectrum of Sensing Devices (adapted from NTDPC report 2014)

 

 iot-2014logo
Figure III Logo of IoT

 

This scheme has great potential for the The Internet of Things (IoT). The Internet of Things (IoT) has been defined by International Telecommunication Union in Recommendation ITU-T Y.2060 (06/2012) as a global infrastructure for the information society, enabling advanced services by interconnecting (physical and virtual) things based on existing and evolving interoperable information and communication technologies. The IoT is a “network” of ‘things’ that can broadcast data and connect to the internet or to a network. Objects, animals or people are given unique identifiers and the capability to transfer data over a network. All this is achieved without human intervention. The convergence of wireless technologies, micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) and the Internet leads to IoT.

A “thing” can join in IoT, only when it is tagged as ‘smart’. For becoming ‘smart”, common things or objects, a few action are needed;

  1. a unique identity is assigned to the object
  2. it has the ability to communicate or to transmit data wirelessly
  3. sensing devices must be inbuilt in the object
  4. it should have capacity to be remote controlled

‘Things’ can refer to a range of devices such as heart monitoring implants, transponders on farm animals or trees, built-in sensors in automobiles, etc. Currently, in the retail market, there are products that utilize this technology like smart thermostat systems or smart washing machines and dryers, with many more on the way.

Minuscule electronics are fitted to a device so each of these things is able to exchange messages with other things and networks. The broader aim is seamless communication, no matter who built the thing or device. In fact, engineering and PhD students in India will soon have the Internet of Things on their curriculum if the Centre’s draft policy is put into practice. IoT is going to be crucial to meet the challenges of the future.

The applications of IoT range from building and home automation and monitoring, environmental monitoring, infrastructure management, industry, energy management, transport systems, urban area management, medical and healthcare systems, etc. New ideas and new companies are creating innovative products and protocols while established companies like Cisco, IBM and Microsoft are investing heavily in IoT technology.

The regulations and standards for IoT are in the process of being set around the world. However, companies working in this area are not waiting for formal bodies to set the rules. They are banding together to work on informal standards until formal IoT standards are enshrined, probably in 2017. The challenge is that not only do devices have to meet these parameters but apps/software backbone, analytics, etc. have to be built to facilitate interaction, interfacing and efficiency.

Homes are being transformed into smart homes, where everything from the lights to the locks can be controlled from a smartphone. A Dutch start-up Sparked uses sensors on cattle so if a cow is ill or pregnant, a message is immediately transmitted to the farmer.

LG, Samsung, Elecrolux and Whirlpool are making smart refrigerators, which can sense what kinds of products are stored inside them and keep track of relative freshness and availability through barcode or RFID scanning. LG has launched a range of smart appliances equipped with ‘HomeChat’. .

In India, the first set of IoT-enabled products and services are already being seen. In Bangalore, Electronic City is poised to work ‘smart’ with smart systems deployed for water, parking, security, etc. In Chennai, a start-up called MaxMyTv, connects devices in the home to the T.V. to enable information flow, control and monitoring. A technical and legal framework is also being readied.

 

One of the top most initiatives in the form of Digital India Program of the Government which aims at ‘transforming India into digital empowered society and knowledge economy’, is expected to provide the required impetus for development of the IoT industry ecosystem in the country.

Department of Electronics and Information Technology,(DeiTY) has come out with a draft IOT Policy document which focuses on following objectives:

  1. To create an IoT industry in India of USD 15 billion by 2020. It has been assumed that India would have a share of 5-6% of global IoT industry.
  2. To undertake capacity development (Human & Technology) for IoT specific skill-sets for domestic and international markets.
  3. To undertake Research & development for all the assisting technologies.
  4. To develop IoT products specific to Indian needs in all possible domains.

As per the draft IoT policy of Government of India released in Oct 2014, the Indian Government’s plan of developing 100 smart cities in the country, for which Rs. 7,060 crores has been allocated in the current budget could lead to a massive and quick expansion of IoT in the country. Also, the launch of the Digital India Program of the Government, which aims at ‘transforming India into digital empowered society and knowledge economy’ will provide the required impetus for development of the IoT industry in the country. The various initiatives proposed to be taken under the Smart City concept and the Digital India Program to setup Digital Infrastructure in the country would help boost the IoT industry. IoT will be critical in making these cities smarter. Some of the key aspects of a smart city will be:

 

  • Smart parking.
  • Intelligent transport system.
  • Tele-care.
  • Woman Safety
  • Smart grids.
  • Smart urban lighting.
  • Waste management.
  • Smart city maintenance.
  • Digital-signage.
  • Water Management

The Policy framework of the IoT Policy has been proposed to be implemented via a multi-pillar approach. The approach comprises of five vertical pillars (Demonstration Centres, Capacity Building & Incubation, R&D and Innovation, Incentives and Engagements, Human Resource Development) and 2 horizontal supports (Standards & Governance structure).

The Robert Bosch Centre for Cyber Physical Systems (RBCCPS) at the Indian Institute of Science is advocating a more human-centred view of IoT, which has people’s ownership of their data at the centre and does not require lock in to vendors such as Cisco, Microsoft or Google. It advocates models which also use ‘little data,’ such as health indicators of individuals, which are stored and controlled on their own devices also and not just central data servers. Its projects include Bluetooth sensors to track hand hygiene habits of medical staff in St John’s Hospital in Bangalore, sensor networks to help irrigation efficiency for Indian farmers, and motion tracking in post-operative therapy for Narayana Hrudayalaya patients.

The age of connected devices with ubiquitous sensors and mobile networks has been coming upon us for years now, in its earlier phases of smart machines and M2M (machine to machine connectivity) — and now the Internet of Things (IoT). Other related terms used by industry giants are Internet of Everything (IoE) by Cisco, Industrial Internet by GE, and Smart Planet by IBM.

The tech blog of Texas Instruments mentions that there are three aspects to the IoT – the central computing resource (cloud), the access points and hubs (gateways), and the distributed sensor nodes (swarm). The three areas need products ranging from high-performance digital signal processors and wireless connectivity technologies to ultra-low-power, high-precision analog signal conditioning, power management and integrated precision transducers.

The potential of IoT can be judged by the following examples:

  • Smart Parking and alerts about open, free space: There is real potential to reduce traffic congestion by 30%, boost parking revenue, and reduce CO2 emissions by Smart Parking in Nice, France which alerts drivers about open spaces.

 

  • Intelligent and weather-adaptive lighting for streets: It has been estimated that the French city of Nice can reduce power consumption (related to lighting) between 20 and 80 per cent, by calibrating streetlights on the basis of pedestrian and vehicular traffic and changing weather conditions.

 

  • Intelligent roads that send out warnings in the event of traffic jams, accidents, inclement weather: Cisco Intelligent Roadways increases operational efficiency, improves traffic flow, and enhances security by providing a highly responsive, service-centric environment based on a flexible, scalable, intelligent information network

 

  • Monitoring condition of patients in hospitals: Sensor on a medical device attached to a patient to send information to a database in real time. A doctor can then access this database on a smartphone and can continuously monitor the patient’s condition.

 

  • Smart garbage bins: In Finland, sensors in garbage cans send signal when pickup is needed, which has led to a 40% savings in waste collection.

 

Indian Railways can have remarkable improvement in asset management using IoT for Rolling Stock like Coaches, Wagons and Locomotives. The optimal use of assets can be facilitated once their exact location is known in real time. Track maintenance can become better and manpower can be effectively utilized. The great pressure that railways is facing due to the whopping wage bill and its severe criticism by experts can be eased once the handheld devices can enable management to optimally deploy staff for maintenance works. The assets will have sensors depicting their health and with use of intelligent monitoring systems, they will reach the right location at the right time. IR today is dependent heavily on supply chain partners. Lot of time and effort is wasted in pursuing the supplies, gaining access to information of vendor. All this can be automated using IoT. The role of purchase department can be limited just to give the purchase order, the balance work can be handled by intelligent systems when the network has information on consignments, stock position etc. IoT is the future, and it has already arrived.

References:

http://e2e.ti.com/blogs_/b/analogwire/archive/2013/12/13/the-promise-of-the-internet-of-things-proliferating-sensor-nodes  accessed on 8-3-2015

http://iot.ieee.org/ accessed on 8-3-2015

http://iot.ieee.org/newsletter/january-2015/towards-a-practical-architecture-for-internet-of-things-an-india-centric-view.html  accessed on 8-3-2015

http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/2905717 accessed on 11-3-2015

http://www.itu.int/en/ITU-T/gsi/iot/Pages/default.aspx accessed on 11-3-2015

http://deity.gov.in/content/internet-things accessed on 13-3-2015

http://www.channelworld.in/features/real-benefits-iot-will-be-realized-2019-ganesh-ramamoorthy-gartner-0#sthash.uJnXLCrQ.dpuf accessed on 13-3-2015

http://planningcommission.nic.in/sectors/NTDPC/voume2_p2/potentialv2_p2.pdf accessed on 1-2-2015

http://www.moneycontrol.com/digitizingindia/news/10-interesting-applications-of-the-internet-of-everything-1624181.html accessed on 5-7-2015


 

Authored by Rajnish Kumar, Professor Information Technology, National Academy of Indian Railways, Vadodara

pit@nair.railnet.gov.in, rajnishkumar1971@gmail.com

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  1. Great article related to IOT, thanks for sharing, this article is highly recommended to share,

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