Future Maintenance Technologies – Autonomous Rails Asset Inspection Robots

1 Summary
Future Maintenance Technologies (FMT) developed an autonomous inspection solution for the
Railway industry. This solution utilises a combination of ground based robots and unmanned aerial
vehicles (UAVs) to automate inspections.
FMT worked closely with Downer Rail & Transit Systems (RTS) to undertake a pilot that would
demonstrate the technology and benefits provided across two rail sites in Victoria and NSW.
Development of the solution included:

  • Design, configuration and build of robots in Western Sydney with local SMEs
  • Partnership with CSIRO for autonomous navigation systems
  • Engagement of Students from local universities (UNSW)
  • Development of Machine Learning and AI to analyse data
  • Working closely with Industrial Workforce and Maintenance Staff

FMT demonstrated its capability through 3 different types of robots:

  • Special purpose underframe inspection robot to inspect the under carriage of the train in the
    pit inside the maintenance shed
  • Boston Dynamics spot mini equipped with sensors to inspect the exterior and interior of the
    train (both within and outside the maintenance shed)
  • Drone for inspecting the roof of the train as well as other facility infrastructure.

Project Description

Future Maintenance Technologies (FMT) has developed sensor technology that allows multiple
robot platforms to be used to automate of inspection tasks.

Underframe Inspection Robot:

The robot utilises the latest Light Detection & Ranging (LiDAR), Laser and Optical
technology to conduct Train inspections
It has a selection of pre-built inspections such as:

  • Rail Wheel measurements (profile, diameter)
  • Rail Wheel surface defects (spalling, cracks)Torque Mark Identification
  • Oil Gauge level
  • Brake Pad and Brake Disc measurements

The robot collects high resolution imagery and profile data that can be used to further develop other specific inspections.

An example of how the robot works:

  • The robot is integrated into an autonomous platform
  • In Sydney, Australia – the robot has been integrated into a mobile robot platform that
    travels the length the train to conduct inspections
  • A charging station is located at the end of the pit where the robot docks and charges
  • Once a maintenance activity is triggered, it travels the length of the pit and conducts
  • It navigates to specific locations, the robot arm positions the FMT sensor kit as required
    and conducts accurate measurements
  • Once inspections are complete, the robot returns to the charging station where data is
    processed, analysed and transferred to the FMT insights platform
  • The FMT insights platform integrates with the customer maintenance management

Walking Robot: Boston Dynamics mini spot robot equipped with lidar and RGB cameras to

  • Exterior and interior of the train while the train was inside or outside the
    maintenance shed.
  • Interior of the maintenance shed

Autonomous Drone:

The drone utilises the Infrared & Optical technology to identify Facility condition and defects The system collects high resolution imagery and profile data that can be used to develop specific facility and rail infrastructure inspections.

The drone technology equipped with RGB cameras to inspect:

  • Components on top of the train while the train was inside the maintenance shed as well as out in the yard (eg. Pantograph thickness, torque bolts)
  • Facility infrastructure (eg. Maintenance shed roof for leaves in gutters, dirty solar panels, wire connectors and insulators)
  • Facility perimeter fencing (eg. Detecting long vegetation, damage to fencing)
  • Intruder detection (eg. Unauthorized people near the perimeter fence)

Use of Best Practice Asset Management Principles

In order to ensure that the automation provided from FMT’s technology solutions, best practice Asset Management Principles were applied by reviewing the Technical Maintenance Plans for each Asset type. This activity was used to identify the potential tasks that:

  • Required isolation
  • Required working at heights
  • Required consistent and accurate measurements
  • Was highly repeated

Degree of originality and ingenuity of solution

FMT’s solutions are innovative and further develop current practices to cater for the workforce of the future, by taking advantage of the latest technology being developed across the world.

Underframe Inspection Robot:

  • Purpose built, automated underframe inspection robot
  • Robot arm on a mobile platform allows for a wide range of underframe inspections possible
  • Easily configurable to add new inspections
  • No need for expensive and limited fixed gantry solutions
  • Multiple robots can be deployed allowing for a scalable solution
  • High quality sensors able to generate 3D models of components to sub millimeter accuracy
  • Productivity improvement within the depot
  • Analytics can be performed on data to generate high accuracy, repeatable measurements of various components.

Boston Dynamics spot mini:

  • Navigate complex environments with stairs and ballast
  • Navigate inside and outside the train
  • Build detailed 3D map of the environment
  • RGB cameras capture images for detailed analysis
  • Productivity improvement within the depot
  • Easily configurable to add new inspections


  • Inspect roof of trains inside and outside the maintenance shed
  • Inspect roof of facility
  • Increased safety as people do not need to do inspections at height and train does not need to be electrically isolated before inspections
  • Improved productivity because there is less of a need for trains to be in the maintenance shed and inspections outside the shed can be performed in much less time.
  • Long perimeter fences can be inspected in much less time
  • Machine learning models can: detect intruders and raise alarms, identify many other components of interest
  • Easily configurable to add new inspections

Program and project management:

FMT was responsible for co-ordinating a pilot program across three states and multiple key stakeholders. This included the CSIRO Robotics Team from Queensland, the Auburn Maintenance Centre for the Waratah Train Inspections in NSW and the Pakenham Depot for the HCMT Train inspections in Victoria.

Benefit/Value of the project or service to the community or organisation

FMT has provided significant value to the local community and rail industry. This includes:

  • actively engaged local suppliers
  • actively engaged local universities
  • actively promoted robotics within the rail industry

Benefits to the organisation

The FMT team has spent significant effort in the creation of robotics capability to ensure that
business benefits are realised. FMT’s solution provides the following business benefits:


  • Removes isolation requirements of electrical and mechanical equipment for safe
    Facilities & Rollingstock inspections
  • Reduction of working at heights requirements for asset inspections

Operations Optimisation:

  • Detection of infrastructure & rollingstock faults before failures – minimises downtime
    and corrective maintenance costs
  • Automation of repetitive labour-intensive inspection tasks, such as;
  • Wheel Profile Measurements
  • Torque Mark Checks
  • Intruder and security fence inspections
  • Periodic facility condition assessments

Repeatable Accuracy:

  • Ensures that all Rollingstock measurements are performed with high accuracy and
  • Recording of all historical data that can be interrogated without manual handling

Cost Reduction:

  • Reduction in labour time required to perform inspection tasks


Future Maintenance Technologies is working towards the continuous improvement of Asset
Management in the Rail industry – by helping implement the latest robotics technology and creating
jobs of the future.
This is driven by the increased demand for passenger rail transport. In Australia alone, there are
unprecedented resources being invested to create new passenger services using both existing and
new infrastructure such as the Queensland Rolling Stock Expansion Program, Sydney Metro West
Airport and Suburban Rail Loop in Melbourne.
As the number of passenger services grows on existing infrastructure, and existing rolling stock ages,
the output of existing maintenance facilities is expected to increase. If existing facilities do not find
ways to improve capacity the risk of disruption to passenger services will continue to grow and
financial outcome for maintainers and operators will be at increased risk.
Further to this, autonomous inspection robots will change the maintenance operating model by
creating new optimisation opportunities, using an agile and capital-light solution, by:

  • Enabling inspections outside of typical working environments
  • Scalability of autonomous maintenance task.

FMT has worked tirelessly over the past 6 months to develop and test its robotics solutions in
working rail environment. This included managing key stakeholders across 3 states, engagement with
local SMEs and universities and promoting robotics within the rail industry.

Scroll to Top