Cobot leader JAKA getting to the bottom of train, metro safety checks

Traditionally, urban metro safety inspections are conducted at night by human maintenance workers, who get under the elevated trains and use flashlights to check for defects due to poor lighting.

Jaka (节卡机器人), China’s leading cobot developer, announced via its social media accounts recently that the firm has collaborated with CRRC Hangzhou Digital Technology Co., Ltd, a railway-focused data service provider, to provide robot-assisted inspection services to ensure metro and train safety.

The inspection device, which comprises an automated guided vehicle (AGV), a Jaka robotic arm, and two cameras, glides along tracks at night and take photos of the metro car’s chassis, send them over for AI-powered analysis and empower decision-making on maintenance and repair.

Jaka’s flexible robotic arm, mounted on the AGV, can lift a 2D full-frame camera to scan the bottom of a subway train from multiple angles.

In the case of blind spots hard to examine, the robotic arm will adjust its angle and train a 3D high-resolution color camera on the designated spot to take photos.

The device is able to cover basically all the parts of a train’s chassis in need of safety checks, according to a press release by Jaka.

Somehow, the original release didn’t mention where the project, which Jaka worked on together with CRRC Hangzhou Digital Technology, was undertaken.

Jaka’s robot, with a compact size and a six-axis structure, becomes even smaller when its arm is folded, saving up room for the AGV and cameras to operate within a height of 80 centimeters between the tracks and the train’s chassis.

Traditionally, urban metro safety inspections are conducted at night by human maintenance workers, who get under the elevated trains and use flashlights to check for defects due to poor lighting.

Their work records are filled by hand and occasionally marred by inaccuracy. Injury is also a concern for individuals working under lifted trains.

This pattern is increasingly becoming obsolete in a country in the midst of building an ever-growing subway network and adding trains to the service.

Against this backdrop, it has become a trend for robotics and related technologies to replace part of the human labor tasked with performing safety inspection.

With the adoption of robots like those supplied by Jaka, train safety inspectors nowadays can take a back seat, sitting in offices and remotely monitoring the process as robots do their jobs.

The robots, upon receiving commands via a digital management platform, depart from their base to the chosen sections of tracks, locate the locomotive, take pictures of the chassis, upload the images and return to the base to be charged.

The user then double-checks if the problems and glitches captured on the images are in need of repairs.

Jaka’s robotic inspectors, which work in pairs, reportedly can save 75% of the labor previously required for such safety tasks, thereby lowering maintenance costs.

Similar products have also been deployed elsewhere in the country. The Paper, an online media outlet, reported in July last year that CRRC, China’s state-owned rolling stock manufacturer and the world’s largest by market share, employed robotic arms provided by Youibot (优艾智合), to survey the bottoms of trains for safety.

The Shenzhen-based tech firm said its robots slashed daily human workload by more than 30% and increased the efficiency by 37% relative to human inspectors. Meanwhile, they also enabled paperless inspection record input and digitalized data storage.

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Ni Tao

Ni Tao is the founder and editor-in-chief of cnrobopedia. Prior to cnrobopedia, he had a full decade of experience with a major state-run English-language newspaper as a tech reporter and opinion writer. He is also a communications specialist, having provided consultancy services to established firms like Siemens, Philips, ABinBev, Diageo, Trip.com Group (Nasdaq: TCOM, HK: 9961), Jianpu Technology (NYSE: JT) and a handful of domestic startups. A graduate of Fudan University, he writes widely about China's business and tech scenes and other topics for global publications including South China Morning Post, SupChina, The Diplomat, CGTN, Banking Technology, among others, and tries to impart his experience to students at Fudan University Journalism School, where he is a part-time lecturer. When he's not writing about robotics, you can expect him to be on his beloved Yanagisawa saxophones, trying to play some jazz riffs, often in vain and occasionally against the protests of an angry neighbor. Get in touch with him by dropping a line at nitao0927@gmail.com.

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