Innovations enable us to offer a higher level of service, improve the quality of our products and raise passenger satisfaction about their journey. NS has several departments with responsibility for innovation and product development. They all report to Commerce & Development. We encourage our employees to contribute ideas for innovative products and collaborate closely with sector partners and stakeholders, such as suppliers, on the development of new technologies, services and products. Together we test the innovations and assess the extent to which they will have a positive influence on our customers' journeys. Below is an overview of some innovations that we developed and implemented in 2019.
Automatic Train Operation (ATO)
Passengers appreciate sustainable travel options. In 2019, NS conducted its first experiment to establish whether Automatic Train Operation (ATO) actually helps to improve rail capacity utilisation, reduce energy consumption etc. We will be running more of these experiments for several different train safety system (ERTMS, ATB) and the shunting process, at what is known as Grade of Automation 2 (GoA 2). At this level of automation, technology is used to assist train drivers in running and halting trains. Starting, running and stopping are all automated. The train driver will take over train operation control when that is necessary.
Real-time monitoring allows us to measure the condition of trains using on-board sensors. These enable us to determine at a glance if, for example, the train is due for maintenance or repairs, or is at risk of failure. That information may help us to improve punctuality rates and operate without interruptions. For the pilot in 2019, we installed real-time monitoring equipment in a number of Intercity trains and new Sprinter trains. We are also using real-time monitoring on TRAXX locomotives to inform ProRail and Infraspeed about any malfunctions on the tracks. Additionally, it can help us remedy faults in trains on HSL South more quickly, thereby also reducing cancellations and stoppages.
Use of drones for maintenance inspection
The annual inspections of stations and other buildings often require the use of scaffolding and cherry pickers, which may cause inconvenience to passengers. In the summer of 2019, NS started using drones for maintenance inspections to perform these tasks more efficiently and safely, at lower costs and with less inconvenience to passengers, as drones do not require large areas at and around the stations to be fenced off. NS has permission to perform professional drone flights around stations and other buildings. The drones produce photos and video footage, allowing visual inspections to be performed more effectively and without inconveniencing passengers.
Graffiti detection and prevention
NS and its passengers consider graffiti on trains a serious nuisance. NS is developing an app to improve cleaning efficiency. The app also has an automated graffiti reporting function and makes it possible to accumulate a dossier on repeated offenders, allowing staff to check immediately whether an offender caught in the act can be charged with multiple offences.
Public transport guide for personalised travel advice
In the NS Lab App, passengers join us in exploring possibilities for digital journey support in the future, with a special focus on step-by-step guidance in the travel process. The tool enables passengers to see at a glance how many minutes they have left to catch their train, and when and where they will have to change trains. The app also provides journey information based on the user's location data, whether he or she is on the train or elsewhere. Passengers can help us further improve the app by providing feedback on its functionality.
Development of artificial intelligence
Five major Dutch companies (Ahold Delhaize, ING, KLM, Philips and NS) have set up a programme called Kickstart AI to boost artificial intelligence in the Netherlands. They aim to promote and grow AI technology and stimulate AI expertise in this country. The five companies have also called for expansion of local know-how and local talent, which is crucial for the ethical implementation of AI. AI applications contribute to solving a range of challenges in society, offer new opportunities for young people and accelerate the introduction of AI in the Netherlands. Consumers benefit from AI as it improves their daily lives through personalised services, greater convenience and more freedom of choice. The Kickstart AI initiative is intended to generate a variety of projects, including an AI competition, higher education programmes and a nationwide AI training course. NS is facing real-life challenges that may be solved using AI. For example, AI may help to facilitate the use of public transport through app functionality and by ensuring optimum combinations of various modes of transport. AI can also contribute to more efficient utilisation of the railway system.