How to use robots to carry out tasks in certain working conditions and to enhance human performance is a focus of TECH SNCF innovation and research efforts.
A robot to do what? TECH SNCF has clear ideas about the answer: it is the use, not the object, that should guide thinking and research. The aim is to provide personnel with tools that will enable them to do their jobs better, more safely, and in healthier conditions.
The idea is not to replace people, but to help them. A robot is, first and foremost, an object capable of perceiving its environment and of acting and interacting with it, with a certain autonomy and form of intelligence.
The role that robots will play in the SNCF Group’s maintenance sector, which employs 25,000 people, is an excellent illustration of this approach. To give passengers more space inside trains, more technical equipment is being placed under or on top of them. A robot will be better suited than a human being to performing inspections under a train.
TECH SNCF teams are thus working on a robot sufficiently compact and flat to inspect under trains, thus eliminating the inspection pits in which maintenance workers now stand.
This is a far cry from Star Warsand humanoid robots. SNCF is working on drones, small vehicles on wheels, remote-controlled or even self-operated objects, simple, smart, and inexpensive robots, single-purpose robots, and ones able to perform several simple tasks.
A robot will not be replacing an axle or a bogie anytime soon. And anyway, would that be a good idea? No, of course not. The purpose of robots is to enhance human capabilities, to help humans and improve their performance.