Cars are getting autonomous. Pilots are enjoying increasingly responsive autopilot … but is anyone paying any attention to trains? Someone is. A lot of attention as it turns out. Several national and international news publications visited the InnoTrans 2016 trade show in Berlin and came back with some pretty exciting news for train buffs and those who use them to transport people and things.
As part of the exhibition, GE unveiled the “superbrain” platform, which is expected to “transform” locomotives into “mobile data headquarters” which should make the trains both smarter and faster.
Seth Bodnar, CDO at GE Transportation told the summit, “A decade from now, digital tools will take railroad productivity and efficiency to unprecedented levels… The whole network will light up like a brain.”
So, as SpaceX and other companies are preparing for a shot at Mars, could the next American “moon shot” actually happen on earth? Could “smart trains” become the transportation module of the future? GE certainly hopes so.
According to Bodner, trains running his system will have more horsepower, operate more efficiently and burn less fuel. So, cost saved, speed increased. Not a bad result — if it pans out. Well, Bodner is already past that point. With one statement, repeated ad nauseum by the media covering the event, he fired a tech shot heard ‘round the world…
“It’s really about enabling self-aware trains in a smart ecosystem…”
No not like Skynet. Bodner is talking about computer systems that can modulate and innovate based on conditions that work on the understanding of the impact that form of transportation is having on the industry and the environment. It’s about being more responsible, not machines taking over the world.
According to the Association of American Railroads, railroads are much more fuel-efficient than trucks, and moving more freight off roads and onto tracks would reduce both traffic and pollution. How much traffic? According to GE, a single 12-cylinder Evolution Series locomotive can pull the equivalent of 170 Boeing 747s. Pretty impressive, right? They certainly hope you think so.
The biggest issue GE faces in this challenge is inertia. Innovation works best when it takes something and makes it better, but, eventually, that innovation allows a less popular — or as in this case older — means to compete with a newer means once again. Trains, which were supposed to be replaced by trucks and planes, managed to stick around long enough to become competitive again… but how many companies will be willing to change their system to take that risk? They’re already doing it differently, and it’s working … the reason to change will need to come with a powerful narrative, delivered flawlessly.
Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5W PR in NYC.