Comfort on train rides depends on the availability of seats. Only in case of seat reservation (and sometimes not even then) can passengers be informed about seating capacities in an approaching train. In this way, travelling by train often starts with a race for the free seats.
The experimental development project FreeSEAT analyses technical and operational solutions how to automatically detect occupied seats by means of a small autarchic sensor system, how to collect the data and how to send them to the next station on the route resp. to an analyzing system.
Focus of the project is sensor technology as well as collection, transmission and evaluation of sensor data. Easy upgrade of existing coaches and low-cost installation are crucial. This excludes any possibility of wiring for energy supply or data transmission.
The project results shall open up a wide field of market potential:
- New and enhances travel information systems via precise data on coach occupancy
- Line-specific insight on passenger movements within a train
- Passenger guidance to coaches with free seats via visual displays on the platform
- Support for planning tools
- Comparison of planning data and status quo
- Enhanced management of capacity allocation
The following sections shall be investigated in a sequential manner:
- Sensors and remote data transmission: evaluation of low power sensor systems, data exchange and transmission
- Evaluation: evaluation of output information, potential benefits for planning and controlling units
- Cost-benefit analysis: costs and benefits of equipment
In the "FreeSEAT" project, various technologies and processes for detecting the occupancy of a seat in the railway sector (trains, commuter railways) were investigated and a corresponding sensor system was developed. The project was concluded with a positive result, and further research on the topic will take place after the end of the funded project.
In addition to the technical basis for such a system (detection, analysis, transmission) the commercial conditions for the use were elaborated. Interviews with various transport operators completed the know-how about the commercial environment. Here it was also found that the interest in such a system is indeed very large, a reaction in the form of implementing the equipment into new vehicles (or retrofitting of the existing vehicles) currently does not have top priority due to the current overall economic situation.
However, the know-how developed in the project can at any time be passed on to further implementation. Moreover, a further refinement is easily possible due to the fact that there is currently no pressure to implement the project’s findings. This relates to the further miniaturization of the sensor system itself, improvements in the power supply and the definition of further processes in the data transmission as well as the evaluation and representation (for example at the train station). The potential for a FreeSEAT system lies not only in the area of railway but also in other means of transport. This was taken into account in the project work.
The project results motivate further work on the topic. The consortium assumes that such sensors and overlying services can make a significant contribution to optimizing and increasing the attractiveness of rail travel in the near future.
Findings of the study are published by a final report (short version, German only) which is available online via the Federal Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology (BMVIT):