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Pilots fly safer under all kinds of conditions thanks to novel vision and awareness system

Aviation authorities are introducing new rules that allow aircraft with enhanced flight vision systems (EFVSs) to land in reduced visibility conditions. An EU initiative designed a cost-effective system to improve safety during flight operations.

Transport and Mobility

EFVSs improve or in some cases even act as a substitute for pilots’ natural vision. Nowadays, EFVSs are replacing traditional instrument landing systems (ILSs). There are several reasons for this. Unlike ILSs, they don’t require large and expensive ground infrastructure. Their enhanced safety during operations in low visibility boosts the confidence of pilots required to fly under such conditions. “However, one of the main challenges is to design EFVSs that are dependable, affordable, available in all-weather operations, and comply with safety standards and regulations,” explains Antonio Soler, coordinator of the EU-funded SENSORIANCE project.

Better obstacle detection and avoidance

“We took advantage of the latest advances in sensing technology and computer vision algorithms to provide a system where information from different types of sensors is combined in a small and economical unit,” adds Soler. The system is capable of inferring useful knowledge about a pilot’s surroundings, providing event reaction capabilities and increased visibility for all weather conditions. This will improve safety during all four phases of flight: taxi, take-off, cruise, and landing. Project partners brought together high-definition (HD) multispectral imaging (infrared and visible spectra) capabilities in an affordable unit. Visible spectrum images provide HD information about the environment, such as the wider field of view, context awareness and object enhancement, under normal visibility. The infrared images provide enhanced visibility under conditions such as bad weather and night-time. The system is used for object detection and recognition purposes like detecting landmarks, alerting for possible collisions and reading runway signs. The potential uses range from aircraft electro-optical applications to various industrial and vision-related applications. It provides an enhanced, real-time view of runways, approach lighting, airport surface lighting, and airport and flight surroundings. The latest Federal Aviation Administration flight regulations permit aircraft with EFVSs to taxi to and from the terminal and to perform operations up to 100 ft above the runway under low visibility. Natural vision is required below 100 ft. The system is currently being validated and tested.

Next-gen EFVSs meet new requirements, adapt to new regulations

SENSORIANCE only uses International Traffic in Arms Regulations-free components. “As a result, the system isn’t subject to the United States’ regulatory regime,” notes Soler. “This avoids delays related to export controls by the United States, increasing the system’s versatility and making it more appealing for prospective customers, particularly in Europe.” The use of EFVSs reduces operational costs by cutting down on fuel consumption and by reducing flight delays, missed approaches, flight diversions, cancellations and rescheduling that ultimately negatively impact customer satisfaction. These factors in turn reduce carbon emissions and the environmental footprint such as CO2, nitrogen oxides and noise, while complying with EU regulations on green aviation. “Up until now, EFVSs were either very expensive because of the high cost of HD infrared cameras, or had very low resolution,” concludes Soler. “SENSORIANCE manages to combine HD multispectral imaging and advanced computer vision capabilities into a compact, cost-effective and low-power consumption unit.”

Keywords

SENSORIANCE, EFVS, vision, flight, visibility, pilot, aircraft, runway, airport

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