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System Being Developed to Watch for Airport Runway Debris

Liverpool Airport landing (ChronowerX_GT/Flickr)A German consortium of companies, university, and Fraunhofer institutes are developing a system with multiple technologies to monitor the presence of debris on airport runways that can make them unsafe for aircraft. A piece of metal that fell off another airplane is blamed for the crash of the supersonic Concorde jet that followed on the same runway soon after in July 2000.

The consortium consists of researchers at the Fraunhofer Institutes for High Frequency Physics and Radar Techniques (FHR) and for Communication, Information Processing and Ergonomics (FKIE), with the University of Siegen, PMD Technologies GmbH in Siegen, and Wilhelm Winter GmbH in Ratingen. Since the Concorde crash, airports have used periodic visual inspections to watch for potentially dangerous debris, an unreliable process that’s prone to error.

The proposed system consists an infrared camera, optical 2D and 3D cameras, and networked radar sensors developed by researchers at FHR. The three different types of equipment combined into one sensor station complement each other, which the researchers say provides redundancy and reduces the chance of false alarms.

Radar functions continuously at all hours and in all types of weather, but it can detect objects, not identify them. The cameras are better suited to identifying objects, but they are affected by the weather (e.g. fog) and the time of day.

Helmut Essen of FHR says the sensors can detect objects that are just one or two centimeters across, and can scan up to 700 meters in all directions. Whenever a radar sensor detects something on the runway, it instructs the cameras to take a closer look.

All the sensor data are then amalgamated using software developed at FKIE to produce a situational overview, in a process the FKIE experts call sensor data fusion. If the overview shows an abnormal situation, air traffic control is informed in the tower. The air traffic controllers can then judge if there is a real danger and, if needed, halt air traffic.

The first tests of a radar sensor and camera will begin at Cologne-Bonn airport this fall, and plans are in place for further testing using several demonstrator systems before the project ends in April 2012.

Read more: Algorithm Being Developed to Limit Small Airplane Collisions

Photo: ChronowerX_GT/Flickr

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