VR at the forefront of HS2 - Main 1

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It is exciting to see immersive technologies play such a prominent role in a high-profile infrastructure project, not least because HS2 Ltd is utilising both VR and AR for a broad range of use cases

Quick read

➨ HS2 Ltd plans to use VR and real-time monitoring by sensors built into the high-speed railway’s infrastructure, including rails, bridges and overhead power lines, to boost its reliability
➨ The information the sensors gather will be fed into an already created digital twin of the railway, accessible at HS2’s Birmingham-based control centre
➨ Railway engineers will use VR headsets to investigate issues from the safety of the control centre

The story

From testing passenger wayfinding at new stations to training staff, the company building the High Speed Two (HS2) railway in the UK is fully embracing virtual reality (VR) and other immersive technologies as part of the billion-pound project.

Next, HS2 Ltd plans to use VR and real-time monitoring by sensors built into the high-speed railway’s infrastructure, including rails, bridges and overhead power lines, to boost its reliability.

Thousands of remote condition monitoring sensors, which are similar to those used in Formula One and aviation according to HS2 Ltd, will be built into the high-speed railway’s infrastructure during construction to monitor its performance.

Flexibility and speed of VR key for HGV driver training - Engineer
Railway engineers will use VR headsets to investigate issues from the safety of the control centre

The information they gather will be fed into an already created digital twin of the railway, accessible at HS2’s Birmingham-based control centre.

Here, engineers and maintenance teams will analyse data with the use of AI and any downward trend in asset performance indicated by the digital twin will trigger HS2’s predict-and-prevent maintenance programme.

Railway engineers will use VR headsets to investigate issues from the safety of the control centre, meaning many could potentially be detected, analysed and resolved without the need for an onsite visit.

HS2 Ltd says this kind of predict-and-prevent system will enable parts to be repaired and replaced when “the asset tells us”, rather than the traditional method of relying on a rolling programme of maintenance and replacements.

David White, head of strategic planning and asset management at HS2 Ltd, explains: “With HS2’s digital twin-based predict and prevent approach to maintenance, we have the ability to prevent failures and replace assets when the system indicates a decline in performance—as opposed to relying on a rolling programme of asset replacement.”

The power of the digital twin and its predictive capability “could see an asset’s operational life extended by months or even years”, he says.

“This will enable us to reduce cost, cut waste and shrink the environmental footprint of HS2’s maintenance operation and maintain a consistently high level of customer service.”

HS2 Ltd also confirmed that VR and other immersive technologies will continue to play a role in training staff working on the high-speed railway.

A screengrab from the passenger wayfinding project last year

White says: “HS2 will be very safe and reliable, not least because it will be new and built to the latest standards. This in itself creates the challenge of keeping staff trained and competent to run and maintain both the railway and its stations. So we will create new tools through the use of virtual and augmented reality technologies to maintain and enhance the skills of our maintenance and station teams.”

It is exciting to see immersive technologies play such a prominent role in a high-profile infrastructure project, not least because HS2 Ltd is utilising both VR and AR for a broad range of use cases.

The project is also an excellent example of how immersive and other digital technologies can be used in parallel and the multiple benefits that approach can bring, including time and resource savings, greater reliability, and much more.

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Images: HS2 Ltd

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