To describe Larry Jordan as an edge computing and IoT pioneer is more than justified for he and the company he co-founded have been delivering systems based on both technologies long before either came into the mainstream.

It began in 2004 when Jordan, Michael Heilman, Lisa Matta and Duane Hong, formed Wi-Tronix, a company that then as now, specialized in technology platforms designed for the rail industry.

Operating out of Jordan’s basement in the Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook, Ill., the company’s first offering was the Wi-PU, short for Wireless Processing Unit, a system that provided a host of services ranging from providing remote event recorder data and accurate fuel readings to monitoring compliance of operating rules and procedures.

“Fifteen years ago, I saw how technology could be used to make rail systems across the globe safer, more efficient and reliable,” he wrote in a blog released last year. “But it seemed impossible at first. How could one person compete with more well-established innovators and actually make a difference?

“Through perseverance and strategic planning, small goals became large achievements. I founded Wi-Tronix, and what started as four people working in my basement has since evolved into a company with over 130 team members working to innovate the future of rail systems.” Jordan went on to say that 15 years from now, railroad technology will look even more wildly different: “Autonomous train operations will drive even further efficiency in public transportation, and that of goods and services.

“This is a huge undertaking and it is not going to be achieved in one large step. That’s why we at Wi-Tronix are making small incremental steps every day toward the end objective of autonomous rail operations.”

In 2016, the company refreshed Wi-PU with the launch of Violet Edge, which it says provided access to comprehensive time-synchronized data integrating HD video, geo-spatial information and other vehicle data, and late last year launched the Violet Edge 830.

The Intel-based offering, the company said in a release, “provides connectivity to multiple types of onboard systems, multi-mode wireless communications, edge and cloud solutions, as well as a platform for future machine learning and artificial intelligence applications. As fleets evolve, the Violet Edge 830 has expandability options including Event Recorder, Digital Video Recorder, PTC Event Recorder.”

The Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) IoT platform also delivers actionable real-time alerts as well as reports and analytics to increase safety, reliability and operational efficiency. 

Rich Arnold, the firm’s executive director, describes the Violet Edge platform as “an advanced implementation of not just edge, but the entire IoT infrastructure. For us that includes data collection at the edge, data cleansing and normalization at the edge, which is an important part of edge computing, namely if there are different sensors talking different languages and translating it into a common language.

“And then edge analytics, which requires some sort of inference engine that does edge processing of the data such as driver alerts and then communications management, which is also part of the edge responsibility.”

Asked what the path ahead for unmanned transportation systems might look like, he prefaced that by saying the computer is becoming a co-pilot.

“We are many, many years into automated aviation where a pilot can put a plane on auto pilot, but it still requires a pilot and that is going to the case for a considerable time. We think of the path towards unmanned operations as a subset of a big issue, which is the path to automating many, many decisions across the management end of a transportation system.

In the railroad operations, adds Arnold, “you are thinking of not only autonomous control of the vehicle, but also of the fleet. There are two models on how to get to autonomy. One is to start from scratch with an autonomous design and to build over multiple years an autonomous system. We tend to think that the agile methodology of continuous improvement is the optimal path. We will get to there best through many, many, many micro changes, all of which are moving us in that direction.

“The best way for me to describe that at the highest level is right now, what we are focusing on is that in order to drive a train you have to see, hear and feel. We are making a computer than can see, hear and feel. It has sensors, cameras, microphones etc.

“We can gradually let that computer become a co-pilot if not eventually an auto pilot.”

Further information on the company and how the rail industry has embraced digital transformation industry will be discussed in an upcoming ECA Founder’s Podcast with Jordan.

Paul Barker