[Avionics Today June 12, 2014] Researchers at the Dresden University of Technology are about to examine the ability of a real-time 3-D surveillance and visualization system to improve the level of safety in airport surface operations. This has increasingly become a concern across the global aviation industry recently, as technology companies look to give Air Traffic Controllers (ATCs) the ability to monitor vehicles and aircraft on the ground to give pilots increased situational awareness during the landing and takeoff phases of flight operations.
The Dresden University research project is being led by Professor Hartmut Fricke, examining a concept that was presented at 2014 International Conference on Research in Air Transportation (ICRAT). The university has selected Neptec Technologies Corp.'s OPAL 3D laser scanners for the project.
Neptec's OPAL laser scanner system features a software development tool kit (3DRi) to provide real-time machine vision applications. The airport tarmac safety study in Germany will use the system to combine 3-D point clue data with real-time algorithms to automatically detect aircraft, vehicles and pedestrians on the airport surface. When detected, a simultaneous alert will be sent to ATCs who can then mitigate damage to aircraft. According to Neptec, collisions between two aircraft during taxiing have been reported to "cause millions of dollars in direct and indirect damage costs."
"We are thrilled to have been selected by the TU Dresden for this project," said Mike Dunbar, director of business development for Neptec Technologies. "This is another validation of our objective to make it easy to deploy intelligent 3-D applications that can operate in all kinds of harsh environments."
Most of the previous focus on improving airport surface operations has centered on using ADS-B surveillance technology for aircraft and vehicles on the ground in the same way that ATCs use the technology to monitor airborne traffic. However, the Dresden study is examining Neptec's OPAL-360 sensor's ability to provide a panoramic field of view, longer range operations and a non-overlapping scan pattern to avoid the creation of blind spots for the controller.
The National Transportation Safety Board included airport surface operations on its 2013 most wanted list of transportation industry improvements. According to NTSB, the number of "serious" runway incursions decreased from 67 in fiscal year 2000 to seven during the first 11 months of fiscal year 2011. However, the overall numbers are "trending at a constant rate of approximately 975 runway incursions per year throughout the National Airspace System (NAS).
The issue of improving airport surface operations has also recently become one of the top four priorities of the FAA's NextGen program in the United States.