Efficiency on track: Telemattica’s trailblazing approach to infrastructure maintenance

April 15, 2024

The ‘Check Engine Light’ on your car could very possibly be one of its most frustrating safety features. This is because while the presence of the yellow flashing symbol tells you that there is something wrong with your engine, it doesn’t tell you what or why. The chasm of potential reasons is seemingly bottomless – from a loose gas cap to overheating. This makes the decision of what to do next complicated, expensive, and often ineffective. You could try to proactively stop the light from blinking through regular car check-ups, but that is not always enough. So while the light exists to make driving safer and more efficient, it creates a whole new host of issues that result in poor outcomes.


Early in their careers, engineers Tim Vale and Tom George worked on a technology that was equivalent to a check engine light for the overhead wiring networks for train systems. The technology mounted to a bridge and scanned trains as they passed under, detecting trains that had been damaged by the overhead wiring during operation. This effectively detected whether or not a train was damaged, but where and why it happened remained a mystery. This left train companies with no choice but to send out rail operators to walk the track – manually inspecting overhead wires to identify issues with them. The archaic methodology leaves companies and passengers vulnerable to incidents, not to mention exorbitant costs. According to Tom, co-founder and CTO, “Each incident can be a safety risk and also cost upwards of a million dollars”. 


Sure that there had to be a better way to not only notify train companies of issues requiring attention but also identify why they were happening and proactively help avoid them, Tim and Tom founded Telemattica. They have developed hardware with sensors that collect data issues and combine it with software that provides real-time, precise insights on areas requiring attention. Simply put – they’re taking a ‘Check Engine Light’ and converting it into a supercharged diagnostic tool. 

From concept to deployment 


Telemattica’s first product, the PCDS, has an elegant simplicity to it. Explaining how it came about, Tom said, “The original concept had sensors fitted onto the pantograph (i.e. the portion on top of the train) that would detect when an impact occurred, find the location in the network, and send an SMS notification.” The product has come a long way since version 1.0. It now uploads video footage, acceleration data, and GPS location to an online dashboard that train companies can review. 


Innovating rail maintenance systems may seem quite niche, but it’s critical for ensuring a well-functioning transport system, and hence impacts millions of passengers and thousands of rail companies globally. The field continues to rely extensively on a lot of paperwork, manual inspections in the field, and pre-emptive replacement of components by schedule. Their own experience in the industry led Tim and Tom to a blue ocean opportunity here. “When we were looking at the rail industry, we noticed that it was a critically underserved market for new innovation technologies. Being a start-up in this industry is quite unique and we saw a lot of opportunity here to optimize the way things were done“, Tim said. 


Short-term strategies to keep costs low and systems going are why this industry's status quo has continued. Conversely, long-term reduced costs and boosts in efficiency are the drivers that will shake this up, resulting in transformative innovation. “The business case for our product is built on a combination of cost drivers and risk mitigation. The incidents we help prevent incur costs beyond the direct repair of the trains and infrastructure, it also includes the cost of buses replacing trains and flow-on economic costs from commuter delays. These issues also can cause serious political and brand damage to transport networks. So, we’re helping our customers reduce the cost of maintenance as well as ancillary costs associated with delayed commuter minutes”, Tim shared. 


Telemattica has had impressive growth since it was founded in 2020 and now has a lean team of six. “In the last 4 years we have developed our first product, the PCDS, and deployed it to over 25 rail organisations globally including Yarra Trams, Metro Trains Melbourne, and Queensland Rail”, said co-founder and CEO Tim. Their solution is helping their customers reduce the occurrence of million-dollar incidents from over six a year to almost none. 


Telemattica’s product being installed on a train 


Building a future of dependability 


Tim and Tom's vision for Telemattica goes beyond rail. They believe that by providing real-time monitoring they can help track, predict, and eliminate issues for critical infrastructure across transportation, energy grids, and utilities. Sharing how he sees the company growing over the next decade, Tim commented “We want to drive efficiency across broader industries with self-reporting assets and infrastructure that automate maintenance. We are driving towards fewer manual inspections and far greater reliability.”


One of the steps to achieving this vision is for Telemattica to demonstrate its potential in its current market. With a plan for a portfolio of products that monitor rail infrastructure, Tim and Tom are currently leveraging Startmate’s Accelerator program to deepen their understanding of customer needs. 


“Over the next couple of years, we really want to build out our portfolio for monitoring of rail infrastructure. To do that we need to focus on developing our capabilities in the local market, followed by expanding globally with a whole range of new products. At Startmate we are working to connect with our customers, understand their needs better, and integrate this into our product roadmap”, Tim shared. Post Demo Day, the team will open a seed round. 


Innovation lies at the heart of Telemattica’s culture. This is what drives the team to build a supercharged diagnostic tool that will help their customers achieve what is foundational for any critical infrastructure: dependability and productivity. By tracking, diagnosing, reporting, and predicting issues in real-time, Telemattica will replace the ‘Check Engine Light’ status quo across critical infrastructure one dynamic solution at a time. 

Catch Telemattica at Startmate Demo Day on 2 May - Buy tickets here.

Apply for our next Accelerator cohort here.

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