Skip to content
Provided by ASME Logo The American Society of Mechanical Engineers

JRC Grand Challenge

This year the JRC will host the 3rd Annual JRC Grand Challenge Competition open to all conference attendees. We invite registered participants to propose an idea to the below Grand Challenge Question and present that idea to a panel of industry experts using a 3-minute “shark tank pitch”. The goal of this competition is to spark new ideas, innovations, and approaches to solving a relevant issue affecting the railroad industry.

The 2019 JRC Grand Challenge Question

The railroad industry’s commitment to safety is reflected in annual statistics published by the Federal Railroad Administration. The train accident rate in 2017 was down 41 percent from 2000; the employee injury rate in 2017 was down 43 percent from 2000, and the grade crossing collision rate in 2017 was down 38 percent from 2000. America’s railroads today have lower employee injury rates than most other major industries. Nevertheless, railroads are always looking for ways to break the plateaus and make tomorrow safer than today.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) present significant potential in the process of inspecting and monitoring the railroad safer, cheaper and faster. Railroad inspection work is both remote and demanding. UAV-based inspections may provide a substantial improvement in labor efficiency and worker safety.

UAVs could provide benefits and save lives beyond inspecting the track. Hundreds of people are killed every year while trespassing on railroad property—many times more than are killed while traveling on passenger rail. Aerial drones could be significantly useful in detecting, and perhaps even warning, trespassers.

A few challenges still face the technology though. For example, multi-rotor copters are able to hover for close inspection of areas of concern. Such an ability would make them highly desirable in a railroad’s UAV fleet, yet the range of rotor UAVs is generally quite limited. The flight range for commonly used drones is often less than five miles on a charge.

The equipment payloads for drones are evolving and expanding. While typical visible-spectrum cameras could detect some obvious obstructions, vital railway defects are often invisible to the naked eye. For example, inspection teams today use ultrasound equipment weighing up to hundreds of pounds-vastly more than what even a large drone could carry. However, emerging sensor technology shows promise to detect anything from soil moisture content to track alignment issues and cracks in the rails themselves.

We are tasked as professionals and stakeholders to consider several questions in order to best evaluate drones use in the railroad industry. What actuators and sensory systems can we mount on drones within their existing capabilities to 1) Improve passenger and roadway worker protection, 2) Facilitate the railroad inspection, 3) Reduce the cost of inspection and limiting exposure of our workforce to items requiring attention. Further, how can we sort, understand, and leverage that data in an automated fashion?

Rules of the Competition

This competition is open to all registered participants of the 2019 Joint Rail Conference. *Participants must register for the conference in order to be admitted to the competition.

Participants may enter the competition between January 1, 2019 and April 5, 2019. Contestants will present their idea to a panel of industry experts on April 11th – 12:00pm using a 3-minute “shark tank pitch”. During the competition, contestants will be allowed no more than three (3) minutes to present their idea using a single PowerPoint slide. Contestants may present as individuals or as a team of three people at most.

The winner of the competition will receive a prize of $500 (check to be mailed by ASME after the conclusion of the Joint Rail Conference). Competition winner will also be recognized at the conference banquet dinner on Thursday, April 11th.

After submitting an online entry form, contestants will need to submit their presentation slide to JRC Organizing Committee by the deadline. Entries are open to individual contestants or teams of 2 or 3 people, but only one entry is allowed per team.