Japan’s planes, trains, ships harnessing big data

Kyodo

Transportation firms are tapping into big data to improve the safety of their services, with the collection of information hoped to detect mechanical problems before they occur.

In other industries, big data have begun to play a larger role in understanding consumer tastes or even predicting evacuation patterns during disasters.

Similar analytics in the transportation sector would be useful, according to experts, who propose developing a system to collect more data.

Japan Airlines in December launched a system that analyzes engine temperature pressure on components in order to predict instrument anomalies. This program was developed with IBM Japan.

Before the launch, the airline would schedule regular checks and additional maintenance of its aircraft when data were found exceeding the standard. About 200 flights had been canceled annually due to mechanical problems.

The new system anticipates technical hitches by detecting “minor shifts” in big data, a JAL official said, adding that the carrier hopes this will help prevent flight cancellations and delays.

A similar move is seen in the maritime industry.

ClassNK, a nonprofit organization for ship classification, set up a unit in April to collect data on temperature and pressure from vessels at sea. It introduced a system to detect mechanical problems at an early stage through data monitoring.

“We used to depend on crews’ experiences and instincts to detect problems. But we are now able to quantify and analyze,” ClassNK, known as Nippon Kaiji Kyokai, said.

ClassNK currently collects data from a limited number of vessels but plans to expand this set and increase the types of data used.

In the railway business, East Japan Railway Co. has equipped its new carriages on the JR Yamanote Line in Tokyo with technology to monitor the equipment and check for misalignment and abrasions of the overhead power wire.

The operator will continue to collect data and plans to develop a system that will detect abnormalities and promote efficient maintenance.

Applications of big data have spread in the transportation field in recent years along with advances in technology for data collection and analysis. This was also sped along by the development of sensors sensitive to component movements of complex structures such as an aircraft.

“Using big data has helped increase subjects that we can analyze and this will help us to prevent accidents better than before,” said aviation critic Yoshitomo Aoki.

“In the aviation sector, for example, we should consider creating a system for further improving safety by gathering data held by each international organization or airline in one place and analyzing it,” Aoki said.