‘National Centre for Robotics and Automation’ will soon lead technological development in Pakistan

The National Centre for Robotics and Automation (NCRA) will lead technological development and innovations in Pakistan soon, which would have a significant impact on the local industry, and result in job opportunities for the youth in the 4th industrial revolution (4IR, or Industry 4.0).

Sharing a pragmatic research with BOL, Professor Emeritus and Adviser Mehran University of Engineering and Technology (MUET) Prof Dr Bhawani Shankar Chowdhry said that the NCRA is designed on a consortium model with 11 laboratories from 13 Pakistani universities as part of the centre, with the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) as the leading partner.

These centres are established to lead technological development and innovation in Pakistan in the years to come.

The NCRA lab established at MUET Jamshoro is working to develop monitoring systems for rail / road infrastructures. The lab is aimed at producing high quality research, innovation and commercialisation in the areas of automated condition monitoring systems (ACMS). It covers intelligent control through integration of analytical and sophisticated tools, they said.

MUET has received a Higher Education Commission (HEC) research grant for the establishment of the “Condition Monitoring System (CMS) lab for rail and road infrastructure monitoring under the National Center for Robotics and Automation.

There are 10 researchers, including five PhD students working on different researches on rail/road condition monitoring projects led by Dr Chowdhry who is heading the lab. His team has also carried out several official visits to Pakistan Railways facilities at Isalpur, Mughalpura, Karachi yards, etc.

In this regard, Pakistan Railways has extended the facility of providing auxiliary railway tracks of 120-feet at MUET Jamshoro for prototype (sample) testing of developed products under the NCRA lab.

The team led by Prof Dr Tanweer Hussain at NCRA condition monitoring system lab has developed several prototypes of smart devices for the railway tracks monitoring, aimed at reducing the chances of train accidents.

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The officials said the Track Recording Vehicles (TRV) developed is an innovative Artificial Intelligence-based vehicle. Through this first of its kind vehicle in Pakistan, the railways track could be monitored and track faults could be detected, in advance, the officials added.

They have named it ‘Muhafiz’ and got their research published in world class IEEE Transaction on IoT (Internet of Things) having a huge impact factor.

“Muhafiz is an automated and portable railway track recording vehicle made for predictive maintenance, which is even better than preventive maintenance,” Dr Chowdhry, head of the project at MUET, said. This vehicle is all indigenously designed and developed by the research team.

“Pakistan is one of the lowest countries in terms of railway safety. You may say this vehicle provides you almost double security, compared with the system already in use in Pakistan. It is a foolproof AI [artificial intelligence] technology machine, which has no human intervention,” he said.

He also said fault diagnosis plays a major role in the railways condition monitoring, as early diagnosis of the emerging faults can save time, reduce maintenance costs and help save people’s lives.

“Based on the site-specific experimentation, our contribution concluded that Muhafiz is 70 per cent more efficient than the motorised-trolley based Track Recording Vehicles (TRV) mechanism,” he said.

Almost 70 per cent of the accidents occurred due to the derailment of the train bogies. The majority of the train accidents generally are triggered due to track failure. Around the world, railways travel is considered to be the safest and most comfortable, whereas in Pakistan, it is marred with accidents on a regular basis.

The latest railway accident occurred on June 7, 2021. These catastrophically outcomes could be avoided if a proper care and maintenance of the tracks was done. As most of the tracks were laid before 1947 and had surpassed their lifetime, the vehicle is designed with the goal to make it portable and easy to operate.

Muhafiz is a low-cost, low-power, wireless, and real-time IoT-based sensing system along with a customised TRV, replacing the manual production of features with an automated process for rail condition monitoring and damage diagnosis, he added.

Dr Chowdhry said that railway tracks in Pakistan are prone to corrugate, as they bear excessive amounts of loading and harsh weather conditions. Most of the tracks had already surpassed their service life.

They are likely to deform or break, ultimately causing invaluable loss to railway assets and human lives.

Similarly, conventional data-driven methods used to diagnose track faults and push-trolley or train-based TRV are used, which relies heavily on the manual extraction of track data, he concluded.

This piece first appeared in BOL.


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