Stopping train wrecks for only $100

In the last few months many people have been killed, and many more permanently scarred in easily preventable train wrecks.  These wrecks were the direct result of inattention, loss of focus, or the driver “nodding off”.

For about $100 in hardware, and some software, an early warning alert system
could be created to notify drivers that their speed is excessive.

Using a $30 GPS sensor, a $40 Raspberry Pi computer, simple waypoint tracking
software, along with an amplifier, speaker, and recorded voice warnings,
(at least) these two wrecks could have been prevented:

New York train crash driver “lost focus” before crash

Driver in Spain train crash charged with negligent homicide

The algorithm could be something as simple as:

Waypoints are stored in the Pi at positions along the path of the train.  Each waypoint contains the GPS coordinates, the (max) speed at which the train should be travelling, and the time at which the waypoint was reached. Waypoints are placed such that subtracting the coordinates of successive waypoints yields distance; divided by time difference gives velocity. This velocity is then compared to the stored max speed, and an alert triggered if the train is going too fast.   Of course, the full application is more complicated, but you get the idea.

Waypoints can be updated by simply swapping out the Pi’s SD card to accommodate for path changes and maintenance issues (among other ways).

In an era where parents are putting GPS trackers on their children, why do we stand-by and allow people to be slaughtered in easily preventable accidents?   Has the price on life fallen so low?   Or is it that we are simply not thinking that rail transportation is a mission-critical application?

Of course, then there are other human factors that play into this. The driver can start to trust more on the technology, and “nap” even more, believing they can get away with it; not recognizing that technology is fallible.

I’m not advocating replacement of the “human in the loop”, but simply making their position more reliable.    After all, they want to get home to their families as much as anyone.

We can solve these problems.   Let’s do it!

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