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Photo/radar sensors detect debris on airport runways


August 5, 2011

Scientists have created a new sensor system, designed to spot potentially hazardous debris...

Scientists have created a new sensor system, designed to spot potentially hazardous debris on airport runways (Photo: Fraunhofer)

When the Air France Concorde Flight 4590 was taking off from Charles de Gaulle International Airport in July of 2000, it ran over a piece of debris that had been left on the runway by another plane. That incident caused the tire to rupture, sending pieces of itself flying into the underside of the Concorde. This in turn caused a fuel tank to rupture, the escaping fuel to catch fire, and ultimately led to the crashing of the airliner ... If there's one thing that this event proved, it's that debris on the runway can be dangerous. While human crews do already manually check for such debris, German scientists have created an automated system that they claim should do a better job.

The debris sensor system is being developed by scientists at the Fraunhofer Institutes for High Frequency Physics and Radar Techniques FHR and for Communication, Information Processing and Ergonomics FKIE; the University of Siegen; PMD Technologies GmbH; and Wilhelm Winter GmbH. The project is called LaotSe, which stands for "Airport runway monitoring through multimodal networked sensor systems" (in German).

The system would consist of a number of weatherproof sensors, which would be located along the sides of the runways. Each sensor would incorporate an infrared camera, optical 2D and 3D cameras, and networked radar sensors. The radar would scan the runway surfaces continuously, and would be able to detect objects even in the fog or the dark. It can't classify them, however, so when an object was spotted by radar, the cameras would be instructed to take a closer look in order to possibly identify it. All of the data would then be combined using custom software, to produce a "situational overview." If that overview indicated that something potentially hazardous was out there, the control tower staff personnel would be informed, and they could investigate.

Each sensor would be capable of scanning 700 meters (2,297 feet) in all directions. Things such as birds or wind-blown garbage would not set them off, as objects would have to remain stationary for a set amount of time before being reported.

Presently, most airports use human crews to look for debris, who regularly drive up and down the runways. Some airports do use other types of radar-based sensors, but according to Fraunhofer, these can only detect metal objects and are vulnerable to damage, as they are mounted on top of tall masts.

Testing of the system is planned to start this fall at Germany's Cologne-Bonn airport.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth

The following statement is just wrong

"Some airports do use other types of radar-based sensors, but according to Fraunhofer, these can only detect metal objects and are vulnerable to damage, as they are mounted on top of tall masts."

The Tarsier system, currently installed at 4 airports, uses a 94GHz radar and can detect plastic, birds, grass etc. And, yes, they are installed on tall towers, so it begs the question, where are the Fraunhofer Institutes planning on placing their sensors? If they place them on the ground they won't see the far side of the runway, so they will need a sensor on either side. And with a range of just 700m they will need a lot of sensors. And during Winter, when the snow plough leaves snow at the edges of the runway they won't see anything.

And why are sensors on tall towers more susceptible to damage? If I had the option of placing a sensor on the ground, or a tower, I'd take the tower any day.

I'm sorry to say this, but it sounds like they currently have a system that is around 7-8 years behind the 4 systems currently available.

Mark Evans
6th August, 2011 @ 12:27 am PDT

I am all for debris free runways, but...

The Concorde crash was caused by one of the main landing gear being out of alignment do to mechanics not shimming it correctly. This resulted in the Concorde taking more runway to get off the ground, and badly overheated the tires. Had the gear been properly aligned she would have left the ground well before running over the debris. And if the debris was in her normal takeoff roll, the tire(s) would not have disintegrated.

6th August, 2011 @ 01:20 am PDT


I like the sound of your theory. Did you notify this to the Air Accident Investigators?

8th August, 2011 @ 12:06 pm PDT
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