Engineers and academics have upgraded the design of traditional railway vehicle chassis with lasers, electric motors and artificial intelligence.
The key aim of the ActiWheel project is to install independent wheel motors on a bogie which replaces the traditional railway wheelset (two wheels on a solid axle) with separate wheels, each incorporating its own electric drive motor. As each motor can be driven separately, this allows the vehicle to steer in curves and at points in a way that rail vehicles currently can’t. A computer-based control system tells each wheel how to respond to the track conditions and provides integrated control of traction, braking, steering and guidance.
The project was a partnership with SET; Loughborough University; the University of Huddersfield and VivaRail. Each partner brought unique capabilities to the project. The Universities provided the theoretical and simulation foundation that informed and validated the design process, with Loughborough concentrating on the control systems and Huddersfield the vehicle simulation. Industrial partners SET and VivaRail were the systems integrators and vehicle suppliers respectively.
Dr Chris Ward - Senior Lecturer in Control Systems Engineering
"These improvements will provide benefits for rail operators, network operators and train manufacturers. And ultimately, what’s good for them should be good for commuters. This tech would also liberate designers from mechanical constraints. A simple change in a line of computer code could make the same vehicle adaptable for the conflicting demands of lots of different types of track – finally, trains would not be limited to either travelling fast in a straight line or around corners"