Riding The Rails With The GENE-APL6
The GENE-APL6’s durability on full display in the locomotive industry.
In recent years, the modernization of commercial rail travel has become more and more about customer experience, with companies in the railway industry embracing technology to give passengers a more efficient and comfortable way to travel. These changes have ranged from the creation of mobile apps providing live schedule updates to onboard features such as in-carriage entertainment portals and passenger information systems.
A leading communication systems provider in the locomotive industry was tasked with installing 2,000 passenger information systems for a major American city’s new underground trains, and had previously partnered with AAEON for similar deployments due to their stellar record of providing rugged, embedded solutions with flexible customization based on the customer’s needs.
For this project, the customer chose AAEON’s GENE-APL6 as the board to power their passenger information system. By doing so, they were able to seamlessly convey information to passengers, including real-time journey progress, the connections available at each juncture, and important news and weather conditions relating to the journey.
Challenges and Customer Needs
Surviving Harsh Operating Conditions
The customer required durable and rugged hardware, given that large volumes of data would need to be processed in suboptimal environmental conditions. As such, the company requested a board with reliable data processing capabilities that could operate over long periods in a harsh environment characterized by temperature changes, intermittent vibration, and power supply fluctuations.
Overcoming Spatial Limitations
Space is at a premium for in-vehicle applications. With each consist comprised of several train carriages, and each carriage requiring a number of LED display screens, ensuring each component of the system was as small as possible was of paramount importance to the customer. The board’s design also played a role in this, as the solution needed to be small, but also contain the features necessary to provide high-quality functionality for such a specific application type.
Reducing Operating Costs
Due to the number of individual system devices required, efficiency in both pricing and power consumption were a priority for the customer. With more than 2,000 GENE-APL6 boards being deployed across the fleet, the ongoing cost of powering the passenger information system meant that the customer sought a board that was mechanically sophisticated enough to reliably operate to a high standard, but did not consume excessive power or require expensive ancillary hardware to function.
AAEON’s Superior Solutions
Rugged, Resistant, and Resilient Design
The primary benefit that the GENE-APL6 brought to this project was its fanless, solder-up design. Utilizing a heat spreader to channel heat from the CPU out through the chassis ensured the GENE-APL6 was suitable for harsh environments with frequent temperature changes. Alongside this, AAEON’s customer-focused customization services mean the GENE-APL6 can be designed to support a wide operating temperature range of -40°F ~ 185°F (-40°C ~ 85°C). As an additional example of AAEON’s project-specific customization for this customer, AAEON reduced the board’s vulnerability to the elements with a protective coating, making the board water-resistant.
Further, the board’s wide DC power input range of 9V ~ 36V enabled functional continuity during the power supply fluctuations common with in-vehicle usage. Compared to static embedded deployments, in-vehicle applications require solutions with much more durability, due to the sporadically paroxysmal movement of the train. As such, the GENE-APL6’s anti-vibration and shock features ensured optimal, durable performance even in unstable conditions.
Compact, Efficient Deployment
Measuring just 5.75" x 4" (146mm x 101.7mm), the GENE-APL6 provided an incredibly compact solution to the challenges associated with deploying electronic equipment in such a limited space. The key to this was not the density of the GENE-APL6’s I/O, but the suitability of its features to this particular application. By excluding unnecessary components from the board, its design was streamlined for optimal functionality as an in-vehicle passenger information system component.
This minimalist approach freed up space for the board to support multiple display outputs, as the proposed passenger information system blueprint called for each device to support two screens to ensure visibility to passengers in both directions. The GENE-APL6 was the perfect choice for this as it contained two dual-channel LVDS ports, along with a VGA display interface for the potential of three simultaneous display outputs.
Energy-Efficient System Architecture
While edge device technology has come a long way, with smaller and smaller boards being able to accommodate expansion modules such as M.2 Keys as their primary mode of connectivity, such an approach is not typically suitable for what rail service providers need in a passenger information system.
For example, AAEON’s GENE-APL6 efficiently powered the system because its balance of attributes aligned with the customer’s project needs. While boards with greater expandability are able to host multiple Wi-Fi, 5G, or cellular connection modules, they would also require energy-intensive processing power that would not have conformed to the customer’s efficiency requirements. Instead, the GENE-APL6’s more economically viable Intel Atom® Processor X Series platform was enough to power an mPCIe module for the train’s location data, while its dual LVDS ports meant the system could host multiple displays using less expensive, less power-intensive hardware.
Having maintained a productive working relationship since 2019, the communication systems provider trusted AAEON’s expertise as a leading provider of rugged embedded solutions. Prior to this, the customer successfully launched a number of similar passenger information systems across Europe, all powered by AAEON’s SBCs.
In this instance, the GENE-APL6’s compact, streamlined design meant that it was the ideal choice to deploy as a central component of the train PIS. With data received via the board’s mPCIe support and transferred via the GENE-APL6’s energy-efficient DDR3 system memory, the application could clearly present relevant information on double-sided display screens, the visual integrity of which remained high thanks to the GENE-APL6’s onboard Intel® HD Graphics 505.
Because of the success of this project, and the company’s long and trusted relationship with AAEON as a leading supplier of embedded solutions, the GENE-APL6 will be the board used in five additional fleets of underground train in the same city’s rail system, with initial roll out scheduled for 2023, and integration set to continue through until 2025.
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