Virtual passenger to offer driver feedback on ride comfort

Virtual passenger to offer driver feedback on ride comfort
28 January 2020

Ricardo’s ‘Comfort Coach’, a novel approach to improving ride quality for passengers, and the winner of a recent internal innovation competition, is to enter into full trial this year with Rotterdamse Elektrische Tram (RET), the public transport operator in the Dutch city of Rotterdam.

Impetus winner

Each year, Ricardo invites staff within its rail business to take part in 'Impetus', an internal competition to develop a new product, service or process for the rail industry.

From all the entries received, five finalists are chosen to take part in an 'investor pitch' competition, with each entry given 5 minutes to convince a panel of judges - representing both Ricardo and industry - of the potential of their idea.

In September 2019, Comfort Coach was internally announced as our latest winner. Submitted by Stephen van 't Hof, Technical Consultant in our Utrecht office, Comfort Coach proposed capturing dynamic measurements of ride quality and presenting real-time analysis back to the vehicle driver. As the winning entry, Stephen was then awarded funding to further develop his idea.

Now, just six months later, a Comfort Coach prototype is to be put to the test in a real-world scenario.

This pilot can help us gain better insight into the travel comfort of our travellers
- Asset Manager Metro, RET

Concept origins

The Comfort Coach is a variant of a measuring case through which Ricardo previously captured measurements in 2014 for NS, the Dutch rail operator, to gain insight into passenger comfort during rail services. As with the original measuring case, the Comfort Coach measures gears over three axes: forward, sideways and vertical motion.

“The difference between Comfort Coach and the measuring case approach,” explains Stephen, “is that this new tool is so small that it can be displayed in the cabin or even held in your hand. If the vehicle is progressing smoothly, the virtual passenger literally appears happy on the screen. If the movements in the vehicle are making for a less comfortable experience for passengers, the character bears a displeased expression and, where possible, the driver can react accordingly".

"Since winning the competition we have been working to finesse the prototype and prepare it for a true test in an operational environment. For example, we've been working on ensuring our design takes into account the need to minimise additional distractions for the driver."

Preparing for real-world testing

“Ride comfort can be determined by many factors," Stephen explains. "Acceleration and braking, for example, can be influenced by the driver. But the ride quality can also be shaped by the condition of the infrastructure or the vehicle. If the profile of a wheel is not good, this is reflected in the gears”.

The aim of the pilot is to see how the Comfort Coach works in practice. “I will install the prototype to the vehicle. The client wants to test three boxes: one in the front of the train, one in the back, and a third used for training of driver teams”.

The Comfort Coach will continuously provide measurements throughout the journey, providing valuable performance data and trend analysis to maintenance teams via an online dashboard. 

“The dashboard can show a cross-section of locations where reduced ride comfort is frequently experienced," says Stephen. "If, for example, we notice that passengers are regularly jolted by carriages at a specific point, then the operator can look at changing driver training for a short-term response or investige characteristics of the vehicle, track or whole route to see if a longer-term fix could be required". 

The data could also be shared with stakeholders and partners to help reduce service disruptions and improve the asset management of equipment and the rail infrastructure,"

For RET, the prototype is an opportunity to test another approach to improving passenger comfort on its service. “RET is working hard to further increase its customer satisfaction”, says Ben Pilgram Asset Manager Metro for RET. “This pilot can help to gain better insight into the travel comfort of its travellers. "

Below: Stephen van 't Hof, centre, and the Impetus judges following his award for Comfort Coach in September 2019.