Rail industry news (Australia, New Zealand)

No more operating blind

Aptella is helping to improve safety on site with the Blindsight AI system, already improving safety on Sydney Trains work sites.

Aptella has rebranded itself from Position Partners to better reflect the variety of solutions it has available, one of which being the Blindsight AI system developed by Presien and currently being used by Sydney Trains.

Blindsight AI is an artificial intelligence safety system for mobile plant and fixed infrastructure. It stops accidents by alerting vehicle operators and people around to objects in blind spots, and automates health and safety reporting, including video, lead safety metrics, and risk analysis.

Cloud reporting automatically captures the near misses that are rarely reported with manual processes, so workers can understand their real site risk for the first time.

Unlike legacy approaches, Blindsight can detect objects without a physical tag or marker, prevent alert fatigue by detecting specified objects, and proactively alert operators and people around so they don’t miss the risk.

Damien Drew is the works management lead, major works division at Sydney Trains. He has been instrumental in the rollout of this technology on plant and equipment on site. Beginning his career in the early 90s, Drew has spent much of his working life in and around equipment as an engineer.

“When working in track possessions, the major risk is not from trains but being struck by mobile plant and equipment moving around on site,” Drew explained.

“For multiple years we were looking for a solution. We came across the Blindsight AI system developed by Presien and took the opportunity to trial it.”

How it works

Blindsight is powered by Presien’s AI technology and therefore backed by a team of Australia-based, in-house engineers and data scientists with decades of experience. It has deployed thousands of devices with more than 300,000 hours of real-world operating hours on heavy industry work sites, and regular automated over-the-air updates powered by the AI Engine.

Blindsight is an end-to-end solution, from on-vehicle alerts to cloud reporting. It is designed from the ground up for heavy industry applications and can be installed on any vehicle type, from forklifts to ultra-class mining trucks.

Blindsight AI will detect workers, notifying them they are in a dangerous zone near equipment. IMAGE: APTELLA

Blindsight then moves past operator alerts by automatically uploading and analysing detection videos in the cloud, so workers get real safety insights delivered to a single simple platform.

Blindsight does not require constant wi-fi or 4G for alerts, physical tags or special identifiers to be placed on objects to detect them, or special machine inputs or integration.

Sydney Trains ran a two-year project with the technology installed on a selection of plant and equipment used on its construction worksites.

“We worked closely with Presien when we first installed the technology as we got a few false positives. As with any new technology, it can take time to improve and we worked with them to do that,” Drew said.

“Presien refined the AI system, and it has made a difference.”

Drew went on to explain that while some operators were reluctant at first, the overall response from users has been positive.

“It is about overcoming a cultural challenge. We are not trying to replace operators with technology but instead use it as a tool to make sites safer,” he said.

“Blindsight AI allows the driver to remain focussed. It is not drawing their eyes away from what is going on outside the cab and allows the operator to gain awareness of what is happening in their blind spots.”

Sydney Trains discovered that the best way to utilise the system was not alerting the operator in the cab but notifying those outside on the ground. 

“When we reviewed the footage, you can see people approach the dangerous area and they will jump back when they hear the warning,” Drew said.

“If we were just relying on the light or the buzzer in the cab, the operator might become numb to the noise. Whereas someone may only walk behind the plant once and the alarm will be more impactful to them.”

Was the trial a success?

Coming out the other side of the trial, Drew and the team were impressed by the results and is planning out the next steps of Blindsight AI and Sydney Trains. Drew has
also been pleased by the fact that the system has started new conversations around safety on site.

“We have developed a two-minute induction video that showcases the required change in worker behaviour,” Drew said.

“We use this to explain to those coming on site that we do not want them to trigger the system and this is what they can do to ensure they are being safe.

“It allows us to have robust conversations around safety.”

During the second 12 months of the project, Sydney Trains sampled 1000 random detections each month. A project officer reviewed them and they were categorised into safe or unsafe detections.

Safe detections represented those where the person was clearly aware of the equipment approaching and had positioned themselves in a safe place and stopped moving.

Unsafe detections were the instances of people unknowingly or casually stepping into the path of moving plant and equipment.

“At the beginning of the trial we saw 40 to 50 per cent of all interactions as unsafe but over the 12 months that dropped dramatically to around three per cent,” Drew said.

“I think it is a combination of the system improving the safety, but also facilitating conversations that gets all of our workers thinking about moving plant on site.”

Drew explained that rail poses unique construction and safety challenges. Narrow corridors, shared workspaces and very tight timeframes mean people inevitably are working close to mobile plant so technology like Blindsight AI is an asset.

“For us, the risk is always just sitting there. We are constantly seeking to improve our controls,” he said.

“This type of system just gives us one more layer of defence to make sure everyone gets home safely at the end of the day.”

Aptella’s market manager of Safety Solutions, Nick Corr, explained the
importance of Blindsight AI in improving safety around trains.

“The work Sydney Trains has been doing with Blindsight has really put them with safety technology leaders in Australia. They are using the technology specifically to suit their operations and to great success.”