April 14, 2015

Windows offer a wider view of passenger information

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Interactive screens embedded into train windows have long been painted as a vision of the future of onboard information services for rail passengers. But with trials of a new system developed by Israeli company Oran Safety Glass now underway, they could soon be standard features on trains around the world, as Kevin Smith discovers.

RECEIVING real-time and up-to-date information is now an expectation rather than desire of railway passengers in the information age. While displays above the door at the end of the coach have long been the flag-bearer for such information, they might soon be usurped by in-window screens which have greater flexibility to offer a range of services.

Israeli company Oran Safety Glass (OSG) has adjusted its system for military vehicles to commercial installations and is currently trialling ScreeneX with a bus and rail operator in its domestic market. The system is essentially a digital LCD screen embedded into toughened, double-glazed glass which is usable as a window, an interior glass partition, or glass door and is resistant to long-term vibrations, jolts as well as fluctuations in temperature.

Screen sizes vary from 51cm to 1.06m and the equipment adds no more than 1kg to the weight of conventional double-glazed glass. The standard unit is a 16:9 rectangular screen located in the upper part of the window, while a wide-screen version is also available, which covers the entire top of the window. If the screen does not touch the edge of the glass, wires to the system are hidden by a 25-30mm wide silk print bezel which defines the outside of the screen.

The composition of the inner and outer glass may vary and can include anti-glare or tinted panels, but there must be an 8mm air gap between each pane for a screen less than 81cm in size, and a 10mm air gap for anything bigger. The standard screen brightness is 200-250 NIT, which is comparable with a standard active-matrix LCD panel, while extra-wide screens may be twice as bright - up to 500 NIT.

ScreeneXScreeneX is able to display a range of information tailored by the operator as high-resolution video, text and graphics. It is run from a programmable digital server which connects to the internet through Wi-Fi, 3G or 4G for live information, or pre-recorded data via a local area network (LAN). This control unit is separate from the screen - usually located within a coach wall - and is compatible with different operating systems, all major communications protocols, and media player software.

Customisable information could include timetable and connection information as the train approaches a specific station, as well as destination information, news and advertising. There is also scope to show movies and other entertainment on long-distance journeys.

"We recommend that the customer stores the content locally so they can download and upload new content whenever they like," says Mr Elad Shtief, ScreeneX project manager at OSG. "This ensures the system is not dependent on an online connection so when the service is not available, it will continue to deliver the content that you need. If the system is connected to Wi-Fi, we recommend a separate connection from the public Wi-Fi, which can also be 3G, 4G, or LAN. But if most of the information is stored locally, the system will not require a very high bandwidth."

Market research

Shtief says that OSG has met with "dozens" of companies ranging from rolling stock manufacturers, public information providers, and rail and bus operators to learn about customer and passenger needs for the system in the past two years.

This market research led to the development of ScreeneX, which he says will be ready for commercial use by the third quarter of this year, adding that OSG is in discussions with several rolling stock manufacturers and operators about securing its first contract. "We hope that by the beginning of next year that we will have a commercial project," Shtief says.

He admits that this is likely to be in the bus sector rather than with a railway customer "due to the slow pace" of the industry and that the equipment is currently in the commissioning and testing phase. "We have designed the system to meet European and worldwide standards and for the in-window component to meet electronic standard EN50155," he says. "We are at the stage of certification and testing, some of which we can complete internally, and some with a partner through an installation. Each train is different and will require a different certification system."

ScreeneX requires minimal maintenance and has an overall service life of 50,000 hours. However, Shtief says problems are inevitable, and that the system's modular design means that certain parts are replaceable without impacting the rest of the system.

"If a window is replaced for whatever reason, it will only require a replacement of this part of the system, not the backend," he says. "Similarly if there is an electrical problem, you will not have to replace the window. The system has a service life of seven years. We expect by then that new technologies will be available, and we are already exploring the next generation of the system."

Shtief says that operators should be able to easily offset the added cost of installing ScreeneX onboard trains by generating revenue through advertising. He recognises that not all markets are open to these opportunities "because some regard the train as a private space," but that OSG has received positive feedback from customers around the world, particularly in Europe, the Middle East and North America, and there have been several requests to run trials.

"Unfortunately we can't work with all of them because we are limited by our resources but we do plan to have two more pilots running around the world in 2015," he says.

While he doubts operators will choose touch-screen versions of the system for windows, he says this could be viable for screens located on doors or close to exits to provide multiple interactive options to passengers, reflecting both the demand for a variety of information from passengers and their willingness to use new technology.

"We see a growing market for digital signage onboard transport," Shtief says. "Operators are now more aware of it and customers want to see more up-to-date information."

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