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Flanking vegetation plays an essential role in track maintenance. To date, the use of glyphosate is still one of the established defense measures, but Deutsche Bahn (DB) wants to push the controversial herbicide onto the siding by 2023 at the latest. Nevertheless, DB will continue to be responsible for controlling and maintaining the constantly regrowing vegetation along the 34,000-kilometer-long rail network - an understandably time-consuming and challenging task. In order to comply with the prescribed traffic safety obligation, the vegetation along the entire route network must also be inspected, documented and evaluated by specialist personnel at least once a year - without interfering with rail traffic. A task that calls for a smart solution.

A task for the Ingolstadt University of Applied Sciences (THI), which is one of the most research-intensive universities of applied sciences in Germany. The project launched to solve the problem is appropriately named FreeRail and is part of THI's presence at this year's HANNOVER MESSE. The task of the FreeRail project is to develop the scientific and technical foundations of a future fully automated drone-based system for digitalized vegetation control and registration of damage following severe weather events along the Deutsche Bahn rail network. The aim is, on the one hand, to design and investigate the technologies and operating processes required for this. On the other hand, a functional demonstrator is to be developed and tested on a selected section of track.