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Satellite technology offers fast track to success

Belgian company Ovinto’s integrated predictive analytics platform, further developed with support from ESA’s Business Applications and Space Solutions (BASS) programme, has taken the ability to monitor and track hazardous rail freight to a new level. Thanks to innovative space technology, Ovinto is making great strides in a competitive rail market with a platform that enables real-time monitoring and control of moving rail cars by combining satellite connectivity and navigation with telemetric and cloud technology.

Transporting hazardous rail freight efficiently and safely is a challenging business. With railways already underutilised, especially in the UK, the ability to monitor critical parameters of tank containers (such as temperature and pressure) and track their location at any given time is essential to ensuring their safe transportation and in making rail a safe, efficient and attractive option for freight operators. In 2010, Ovinto started work on new systems enabling rail freight customers to monitor and track wagons carrying potentially harmful or toxic cargoes in real time. 

With funding from BASS, Ovinto subsequently began to collaborate closely with ESA and was able to develop its telematics capabilities further still, using the latest satellite connectivity to provide accurate, real-time data from rail freight containers, regardless of where they are located on the planet. The project delivered a unique data integration and predictive analytics service, bolstering the existing software infrastructure, and connecting internal and external data sources to make typically non-flexible software modules/silos extremely flexible through collaboration, data exchange and integration. The new technology automated and optimised the interaction between shippers, as well as with the owners, operators, freight forwarders, workshops and infrastructure managers, to reduce costs, manual work and the possibility of human error. The team also developed data integration and exchange services specifically for the UK, offering new hi-tech incentives to freight operators and adding value to the country’s underused rail network.   

Using the space-powered technology, the Ovinto service sends GNSS (global navigation satellite system) data processed by a telemetry device, together with other sensor data, via satellite communications or via a terrestrial network to the cloud, where it is combined with other databases to provide a tailored one-stop solution for rail freight and enabling users to exchange data with other stakeholders. The technology is also effective when rail cargo is moved onto other forms of transportation, thanks to multi-constellation chipsets, which enhance satellite navigational signals, allowing operators to monitor assets until they safely reach their destination.

Ovinto co-founder Frederick Ronse said, “Rail cargo seemed like it was being handled 100 years ago. All other forms of transport seemed to be automated except trains, allowing companies to know where their products were. But trains are greener and more sustainable than most other types of transport. So, we realised that if we could track trains safely over long distances – which wasn’t possible before we arrived – it would make rail freight a more viable and efficient option for hazardous goods.”

Former ESA Business Applications Ambassador for Belgium, Nicolas Helssen, has followed Ovinto’s rise since 2012. “We always saw great potential in Ovinto and their ambitious plans,” he said. “Frederick’s infectious enthusiasm and unrelenting confidence when expounding the capabilities of his business were always compelling and engaging. Witnessing the recent growth of the company is very satisfying.” 

Through its project collaborations with ESA, Ovinto has been able to offer cutting edge new services to rail freight users built on space asset-generated data, adding value to the sector and repositioning rail freight as the reliable, greener option to transport goods. The use of satellite communications to transmit the data from the sensors to the computing environment has the potential to transform the fortunes of the industry in the UK and beyond, with Evonik and Ineos already equipping their fleet with the devices, and Ovinto now rolling the new technology out across the globe.

08 June 2023
Last updated at 22 June 2023 - 14:36