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The current state

STREAM Project Launched

By Christian Di Natali (Project coordinator, technical leader)

Towards Smart Tools for Railway work safety and performance improvement

 |  Events and press coverage

© L.Taverna - IIT-Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia

Genoa, Italy, February 3, 2021 - STREAM is a new collaborative project involving 8 partners from 5 EU Countries with the common goal to develop 2 innovative technologies to improve rail inspection and maintenance operations. The goal is to improve working methods by modernizing and introducing robotic systems, but at the same time improve safety of workers, thus it also creates benefits in workers’ health and quality of life at work. Funded by the European Union in the framework of Shift2Rail Joint Undertaking, that is the European initiative to innovate the EU railways, STREAM is coordinated by IIT-Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia. Researchers and engineers will develop sensors, actuators for hydraulic systems and control software, which will allow on-track machines to conduct multi-purpose autonomous operations, and modular active exoskeletons to reduce the risk of injury by assisting workers in heavy activities. The project will last 30 months and it has received 2 700 000 euro. 

Shift2Rail Joint Undertaking is the first European rail initiative to seek focused research and innovation (R&I) and market-driven solutions in order to support the creation of a Single European Railway Area (SERA), considering a modal shift from road to rail in order to achieve a more competitive and resource-efficient European transport system. As a final goal, Shift2Rail would like to transform the current European transport system towards one that is more competitive, efficient and sustainable. The Initiative envisages several Innovation Programs to address specific challenges and involving, in a competitive way, institutes and research centers in Europe. STREAM project was selected to respond to the need of reducing costs and augmenting workers safety in the construction, operation and maintenance of rail network infrastructure.

In this context, the rail industry is facing important challenges as the average age of the workforce keeps growing whereas fewer young workers are interested in the physically demanding work. The development and subsequent introduction of robotic technologies could help reduce the load on the workers by supporting them during heavy tasks. In addition, these technologies could also contribute to reducing and preventing accidents and injuries at work. Therefore, the technologies realized by the STREAM project will have a direct impact on railway workers. 

STREAM activities will deliver two methods (Work Streams) to improve competitiveness in railway maintenance and construction operations: the first one will consist on the development of a control platform aiming to convert traditional heavy-duty hydraulic machines (e.g. excavators) in robotic systems. These will be able to move and complete manipulation tasks autonomously. By introducing a level of robotic autonomy, digitalization and intelligence, the safety of On-Track Machines will be enhanced. The second technology will be focused on the deployment of a modular wearable active exoskeleton to reduce the risk of injury due to physical overload. This exoskeleton will be worn by workers and will assist them in physically demanding activities, with the main feature of being a versatile exoskeleton that acts in accordance with the worker activities. Furthermore, the comfort, effectiveness and usability of these innovative devices will be studied and improved in order to positively influence the quality of life and safety of workers.

The ultimate goal of the STREAM project is to support the construction and maintenance processes of railway infrastructures by introducing smart technologies within the current working procedures, to improve them by optimizing their operation planning, safety and performance. This is aligned to the EU’s worker policies of enhancing safety, to achieve permanent improvement basing it on the structural reduction of the probability of fatalities, injuries and damage. 

STREAM will strictly collaborate with main companies in the rail field and the IN2SMART2 project, also part of the Shift2Rail community constituted by twenty large enterprises of the rail sector. Also, STREAM is building a network of companies involved in the project as advisory board (End-User Board), to share experience and feedbacks to guide the technology development along the project life of the project. 

STREAM aims to reach a high Technology Readiness Level for the technologies that will be developed and will validate those in relevant scenario for a prompt uptake on the market. This will be possible thanks to the direct involvement in the consortium of companies and experts operating in the sector.

The project consortium is composed of 8 partners with complementary knowledge areas and skills to promote the scientific outcome and industrial uptake and delivery of tangible results in STREAM: IIT-Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (Italy, coordinator), TAU – Tampere University (Finland), STAM Srl (Italy), Novatron Oy (Finland), GEM-Etablissement D'enseignement Superieur Consulaire Grenoble Ecole De Management (France), Union Des Industries Ferroviaires Europeennes (UNIFE), Comsa Sau (Spain) and the Transportation Business Unit of Sirti S.p.A, now Sirti Transportation S.r.l. (Italy).