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Ecopia AI, Airbus, & ESA Empower Network Rail to Build & Maintain Safer, Smarter Railways in the UK Using Space Technology

June 14, 2023 - Ecopia & Airbus announce a partnership to provide the Technical Authority at Network Rail with high-precision land use change data for mapping and geospatial analysis.

June 14, 2023 - Ecopia AI (Ecopia) and Airbus have today announced a partnership to provide Great Britain's leading railway owner, Network Rail, with high-precision land use change data for mapping and geospatial analysis. The initiative is part of the demonstration project land use change identification (LUCI) for rail programme supported by ESA Business Applications and Space Solutions, and aims to provide Network Rail with the geospatial data needed to understand the ever-changing environment and its impact on railway infrastructure.

The LUCI project has been supported by the Network Rail Technical Authority R&D team who have facilitated the successful collaboration between Network Rail Buildings & Civils teams representing Geotechnics, Lineside, Drainage, Asset Protection, and Mining.

As the leading railway owner in Great Britain, Network Rail is responsible for 20,000+ miles of track in England, Scotland, and Wales. They also own, repair, and develop the 30,000+ bridges, tunnels, and viaducts in the region, as well as thousands of signals, level crossings and stations. Network Rail’s main objective is to run a safe, reliable and efficient railway that serves their customers and community while contributing to sustainability goals for a greener, cleaner future.

Visualizing and analyzing the land adjacent to railway infrastructure is a key component of developing and maintaining networks. Both large and small scale land use changes can have serious and potentially dangerous implications for railway networks; geospatial data can identify these risks, enabling operators to understand the effects and develop sustainable solutions. For example, if land adjacent to a railway has been recently developed and now contains more impervious surfaces, the area may be at increased risk of flooding. This flood risk could derail the tracks, putting lives in danger. By leveraging geospatial data, railway organizations have the operational tools to stay on top of these changes in land use and develop plans to ensure the safety and sustainability of their networks, their employees and the citizens they serve.

While many railway operators around the world utilize geospatial data to monitor and analyze land use, Network Rail is leading the industry in its implementation of artificial intelligence (AI) -powered insights. In a dynamically changing world, maintaining an up-to-date database of land use is often a challenge for rail networks looking to detect changes in the environment. Data can quickly become stale and obsolete if not updated frequently, but manually analyzing and digitizing geospatial imagery is a resource-intensive process - especially across Network Rail’s extensive railway system.

To provide Network Rail with the data they need to create and maintain safe and sustainable railway infrastructure in Great Britain, Ecopia and Airbus combined their expertise and developed a new solution for monitoring land use change.  At a high level, the process involves ingesting ESA and Airbus’ satellite imagery into Ecopia’s AI-based mapping systems to extract high-precision building and road data, and subsequently detect change. The resulting data, combined with other land cover features provided by Airbus, is then delivered to Network Rail via an API so they can perform their own geospatial analysis and reporting.

A diagram of the workflow developed by Ecopia, Airbus, and ESA to provide Network Rail with up-to-date land use change insights
A diagram of the workflow developed by Ecopia, Airbus, and ESA to provide Network Rail with up-to-date land use change insights

“We are excited to support this innovative solution for Network Rail,” said Abigail Coholic, Senior Director of Partnerships at Ecopia. “This project is a perfect example of how our global partner network comes together to create and maintain GIS-professional quality results at scale. We are honored to work alongside Airbus and ESA to make Great Britain’s railways safer and more sustainable.”

“Airbus is thrilled to continue our partnership with Ecopia and deliver detailed land use data to Network Rail,” said Thomas Harling at Airbus. “Our partnership highlights how Airbus imagery and Ecopia’s AI-based mapping systems truly complement each other and drive innovation in the geospatial industry.”

“We are committed to supporting companies developing space-based solutions for complex problems and rail is one of the key areas where space technologies and data can make the difference,” said Enrico Spinelli from ESA. “Satellite imagery and the geospatial intelligence extracted from it are alleviating the need to manually update land cover features in a world that changes every single day, and allowing operators like Network Rail to maintain a system of record for the land use adjacent to their infrastructure.”

A sample of change detection mapped by Ecopia in Leeds, UK
A sample of change detection mapped by Ecopia in Leeds, UK

“Network Rail is proud to invest our R&D resources into this important initiative across multiple off-track disciplines.” said Stephen Brooks from Network Rail. “Maintaining safe and sustainable railway networks to best serve our clients is our top priority, and the data-driven insights delivered by Ecopia, Airbus, and ESA will better enable us to provide transportation to the people of Great Britain. The LUCI project will enable us to better understand land use change beyond our boundary fence that may impact the operational railway.”

To learn more about this initiative, visit ESA’s LUCI project page

For more information on Ecopia, click here. To view our HD map samples, click here.

About Ecopia AI
Ecopia is on a mission to create a digital twin of the Earth. We leverage artificial intelligence to convert high-resolution imagery into high-definition (HD) vector maps. These maps form a digital representation of reality and are embedded into decision-making applications, offering unique insight at scale. Ecopia’s HD vector maps are leveraged for hundreds of commercial and government applications across over 100 countries around the world. 

About Airbus
Airbus pioneers sustainable aerospace for a safe and united world. The Company constantly innovates to provide efficient and technologically-advanced solutions in aerospace, defence, and connected services. In commercial aircraft, Airbus offers modern and fuel-efficient airliners and associated services. Airbus is also a European leader in defence and security and one of the world's leading space businesses. In helicopters, Airbus provides the most efficient civil and military rotorcraft solutions and services worldwide.

About ESA Business Applications and Space Solutions
ESA Business Applications Space Solutions is the go-to place for great business ideas involving space in all areas of society and economy. Our mission is to support entrepreneurs in Europe in the development of business using satellite applications and space technology to improve everyday life, delivering environmental and societal benefits.Our network includes the ESA Business Applications Ambassadors and the recurring ESA Investor Forum.

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