Articles from "Microelectronics News"

Fraunhofer Group for Microelectronics

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Making runways safer

Airplanes undergo significant stresses during take-off and landing, and parts can become detached, putting subsequent runway users at risk. Until now, airport staff have had to monitor runways without technical assistance – an activity that is prone to error. The Fraunhofer Institutes FHR and FKIE have therefore developed a new radar system intended to increase safety at airports.

 

The radar sensor can detect objects just centimeters across on runways. Photo: Fraunhofer FHR
The radar sensor can detect objects just centimeters across on runways. Photo: Fraunhofer FHR
Everything in sight. Air traffic controllers must be able to react constantly to new challenges. Fraunhofer FHR’s new radar system will be able to help them do so in the future. 
Photo: MEV
Everything in sight. Air traffic controllers must be able to react constantly to new challenges. Fraunhofer FHR’s new radar system will be able to help them do so in the future.
Photo: MEV

Ten years may have gone by, but most people can still recall the Concorde crash. The accident was caused by a piece of metal lying on the runway during take-off. One of the aircraft’s tires burst as it rolled over the metal, sending chunks of rubber flying into the fuel tank, which then exploded – resulting in 113 deaths. To avoid accidents such as this, airport staff drive up and down runways at six-hour intervals looking for any debris. But to monitor the huge areas in question without any kind of technical assistance is time-consuming and subject to error – especially in bad weather.

Flying safely with the LaotSe project

In the future, a new weatherproof safety system will monitor runways continuously for debris and warn of any dangers. Research scientists at the Fraunhofer Institutes for High Frequency Physics and Radar Techniques FHR and for Communication, Information Processing and Ergonomics FKIE are developing the system in conjunction with the University of Siegen, PMD Technologies GmbH and Wilhelm Winter GmbH in a project dubbed LaotSe – short for “Airport runway monitoring through multimodal networked sensor systems.” “Our technology would have prevented the Concorde tragedy,” says Dr. Helmut Essen, who heads the Millimeter-Wave Radar and High Frequency Sensors department at the FHR in Wachtberg. “Devices installed all along the runway continuously scan the surface. They can detect even the smallest of items, such as screws, but the system will only issue a warning if an object remains on the runway for a longer period of time. A windblown plastic bag or a bird resting briefly will not set off the alarm.”

3 into 1: sensors provide a reliable view of the situation

The system comprises an infrared camera, optical 2D and 3D cameras, and networked radar sensors. These sensors were developed by researchers at the FHR. The three different types of equipment complement each other: Radar functions around the clock and whatever the weather. It can detect objects but not identify them. The cameras are better suited to classifying objects, but they are affected by the weather and the time of day. Whenever a radar sensor detects something, it instructs the cameras to take a closer look. All the sensor data is then combined using software developed at FKIE to produce a situational overview. If the overview shows an abnormal situation, the air traffic control tower is informed. Air traffic controllers can check their screens to judge whether there is actual danger and, if so, halt air traffic. While similar radar systems have been developed, these are only capable of detecting metal objects, and often trigger false alarms. What is more, because they are mounted high up on masts they can easily be damaged in the event of an airplane accident. Dr. Essen outlines some of the new system’s advantages: “Our radar sensor transmits at a frequency of 200 GHz, so it can detect objects that are just one or two centimeters across. And using three different kinds of sensors means false alarms are almost out of the question.” Initial testing of a radar sensor and camera will begin at Cologne-Bonn Airport this fall, with plans in place for further testing using several demonstrator systems before the project ends in April 2012.

Contact:

Jens Fiege
Phone +49 228 9435-323
jens.fiege(at)fhr.fraunhofer.de
Fraunhofer Institute for High Frequency Physics and Radar Techniques FHR
Neuenahrer Strasse 20
53343 Wachtberg
Germany
www.fhr.fraunhofer.de

 

 

Bernhard Kless
Phone +49 228 9435-219
bernhard.kless(at)fkie.fraunhofer.de
Fraunhofer Institute for Communication, Information Processing and Ergonomics FKIE
Neuenahrer Strasse 20
53343 Wachtberg
Germany
www.fkie.fraunhofer.de