Distance Finding in Mobile Autonomous Systems

Damien Clarke - Senior Consultant, Data Exploitation

By: Damien Clarke
Lead Consultant, Data Exploitation

7th November 2018

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You might already be familiar with FiveAI, a driverless car startup based in Cambridge, and their recent work making headlines but for those that aren’t, allow me to bring you up to speed. FiveAI’s vision is to bring a shared driverless taxi service to London by next year and they have already started gathering data of London’s streets with their iconic blue branded cars.

A key component in the development of mobile autonomous systems is the ability to produce a 3D map of the local environment which can be used for route planning and collision avoidance (e.g. sense and avoid). There are various sensors which can be used to achieve this and each one has specific advantages and disadvantages.

Stereo Vision

The first approach (and one that many animals, including humans, use) is to combine images from a pair of cameras placed at slightly different positions to enable depth perception. This is achieved by determining the horizontal disparity between the same object in both cameras. Nearby objects produce a large disparity in position between the two cameras whereas far objects have a small disparity.

This technique can also be used with a single camera if it is moving as the video is effectively a series of images taken at different positions. This is known as Structure from Motion and is commonly used with airborne cameras, such as those used on small consumer drones.

The primary advantage of this technique is that cameras are small and inexpensive. At close range, good depth resolution can be achieved and fused with the image content itself to produce a 3D colour image. A large number of cameras with overlapping fields of view can potentially produce a 360° panoramic 3D map of the environment around a vehicle.

The main limitation of this approach is that it will only work when suitable images can be produced and therefore adverse environmental conditions (e.g. dust, fog, rain, etc.) will prevent the production of a 3D map. Operation at night time is potentially possible with illumination or the use of thermal imagers rather than standard cameras. Poor camera dynamic range can also be a problem as bright lights (e.g. headlights or the sun) will cause glare. In addition, the processing required to locate features within both images and match them is complex and adds computational burden when using this technique to produce a 3D map.

Lidar

An alternative optical approach to stereo vision is a scanning laser range finder, also known as lidar. This approach uses a laser to send a pulse towards a surface and a sensor to record how long it takes for the reflection to return. The measurement of the time of flight can then be used to determine the range. To produce a 3D map of a scene, this beam must then be scanned in azimuth and elevation. To reduce the amount of scanning, some lidar sensors use multiple beams at different elevation angles and then only scan in azimuth.

Lidar has very good depth resolution and due to the narrow beam can also produce very good lateral resolution. In general, the technology for emitting and sensing light is entirely solid state, however, at present many lidar system still use the mechanical method to scan the beam across the scene. Fully solid state systems would be small and cheap, though this promise has not yet been fully realised in commercial lidar systems which are often large and expensive.

As simple lidar sensors only record the time for the first reflection to return, a drawback of some lidar systems is that they will only detect the nearest object in a specific direction. This is problematic when the environment is dusty or foggy as the first reflection may not be from a solid object and the resulting 3D map will be degraded. More sophisticated (and costly) systems measure the entire reflection over time which then allows a full range profile to be measured through the obscurant. Direct sunlight can also produce problems as the large level of background illumination can make it difficult to detect weak reflections. Similarly, if a surface has low reflectivity (i.e. it is black) then it may not be detected by the lidar. This can be a problem for autonomous vehicles as black car surfaces will only be detected at a closer range than more reflective vehicles.

Radar

Radar is similar to lidar but uses microwaves rather than light (typically 25 or 77 GHz). Lidar was in fact inspired by radar (e.g. laser radar) and only became possible once lasers were invented. The exact mechanism by which the distance is measured varies slightly between different radar systems; however, the concept is the same. A signal is emitted, the length of time it takes for a reflection to return is measured and this is then converted into a range profile. While panoramic mechanically scanned radars are available, it is more common to use an antenna array and calculate the angle of arrival of a reflection by the difference in signal across the array.

One advantage of radar is the ability to measure speed directly via Doppler shift without complex processing. Therefore, objects moving relative to a mainly static scene are generally easy to detect. Poor environmental conditions (e.g. fog, rain and snow) have little impact on the performance of the radar which provides a useful all-weather capability for autonomous vehicles. Single chip radars with integrated processing capabilities are also available for use as small and inexpensive sensor solutions.

A disadvantage of radar is the limited lateral resolution. While the depth resolution can be good, the angular resolution is significantly lower than for optical sensors. However, this is partially mitigated if an object can be uniquely separated from other objects and clutter by its range or velocity value.

Ultrasonic

The final sensor used for range finding on autonomous vehicles is an ultrasonic sensor which emits high-frequency sounds beyond the range of human hearing. Bats are, of course, well-known users of this approach. Ultrasonic sensors are very similar to lidar sensors; however, as the speed of sound in air is vastly slower than the speed of light it is much easier to measure the time for a reflection to return from a surface.

Ultrasonic sensors work well regardless of light level or environmental conditions and are very small and inexpensive. This makes the technology ideal for ultra-short range collision avoidance sensors on small or slow moving vehicles which can be placed in many locations to provide wide area coverage.

The main disadvantage of ultrasonic sensors is their extremely short range as they can only produce distance measurements for surfaces up to a few metres away. For this reason, it is also uncommon for an ultrasonic sensor to be used to explicitly form a 3D map.

Data Fusion

In practice, to achieve a robust and effective sensor solution for autonomous vehicles it is necessary to combine different sensors and perform sensor fusion. As yet there is no standard sensor suite and research is still ongoing to determine the optimum combination with an acceptable performance across all weather conditions.

Furthermore, as an example, Tesla’s latest models that are claimed to be suitable for autonomous operation have eight cameras (with varying fields of view) and twelve ultrasonic sensors to enable panoramic sensing while a single forward-looking radar measures range and speed of objects up to 160m away.

The combination of cameras with radar is a common sensor choice as it provides good lateral and range resolution under various weather conditions for a relatively low price. It remains to be seen whether or not it is sufficient for safe autonomous operation without the addition of lidar.

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You might already be familiar with FiveAI, a driverless car startup based in Cambridge, and their recent work making headlines but for those that aren’t, allow me to bring you up to speed. FiveAI’s vision is to bring a shared driverless taxi service to London by next year and they have already started gathering data of London’s streets with their iconic blue branded cars.

A key component in the development of mobile autonomous systems is the ability to produce a 3D map of the local environment which can be used for route planning and collision avoidance (e.g. sense and avoid). There are various sensors which can be used to achieve this and each one has specific advantages and disadvantages.

Stereo Vision

The first approach (and one that many animals, including humans, use) is to combine images from a pair of cameras placed at slightly different positions to enable depth perception. This is achieved by determining the horizontal disparity between the same object in both cameras. Nearby objects produce a large disparity in position between the two cameras whereas far objects have a small disparity.

This technique can also be used with a single camera if it is moving as the video is effectively a series of images taken at different positions. This is known as Structure from Motion and is commonly used with airborne cameras, such as those used on small consumer drones.

The primary advantage of this technique is that cameras are small and inexpensive. At close range, good depth resolution can be achieved and fused with the image content itself to produce a 3D colour image. A large number of cameras with overlapping fields of view can potentially produce a 360° panoramic 3D map of the environment around a vehicle.

The main limitation of this approach is that it will only work when suitable images can be produced and therefore adverse environmental conditions (e.g. dust, fog, rain, etc.) will prevent the production of a 3D map. Operation at night time is potentially possible with illumination or the use of thermal imagers rather than standard cameras. Poor camera dynamic range can also be a problem as bright lights (e.g. headlights or the sun) will cause glare. In addition, the processing required to locate features within both images and match them is complex and adds computational burden when using this technique to produce a 3D map.

Lidar

An alternative optical approach to stereo vision is a scanning laser range finder, also known as lidar. This approach uses a laser to send a pulse towards a surface and a sensor to record how long it takes for the reflection to return. The measurement of the time of flight can then be used to determine the range. To produce a 3D map of a scene, this beam must then be scanned in azimuth and elevation. To reduce the amount of scanning, some lidar sensors use multiple beams at different elevation angles and then only scan in azimuth.

Lidar has very good depth resolution and due to the narrow beam can also produce very good lateral resolution. In general, the technology for emitting and sensing light is entirely solid state, however, at present many lidar system still use the mechanical method to scan the beam across the scene. Fully solid state systems would be small and cheap, though this promise has not yet been fully realised in commercial lidar systems which are often large and expensive.

As simple lidar sensors only record the time for the first reflection to return, a drawback of some lidar systems is that they will only detect the nearest object in a specific direction. This is problematic when the environment is dusty or foggy as the first reflection may not be from a solid object and the resulting 3D map will be degraded. More sophisticated (and costly) systems measure the entire reflection over time which then allows a full range profile to be measured through the obscurant. Direct sunlight can also produce problems as the large level of background illumination can make it difficult to detect weak reflections. Similarly, if a surface has low reflectivity (i.e. it is black) then it may not be detected by the lidar. This can be a problem for autonomous vehicles as black car surfaces will only be detected at a closer range than more reflective vehicles.

Radar

Radar is similar to lidar but uses microwaves rather than light (typically 25 or 77 GHz). Lidar was in fact inspired by radar (e.g. laser radar) and only became possible once lasers were invented. The exact mechanism by which the distance is measured varies slightly between different radar systems; however, the concept is the same. A signal is emitted, the length of time it takes for a reflection to return is measured and this is then converted into a range profile. While panoramic mechanically scanned radars are available, it is more common to use an antenna array and calculate the angle of arrival of a reflection by the difference in signal across the array.

One advantage of radar is the ability to measure speed directly via Doppler shift without complex processing. Therefore, objects moving relative to a mainly static scene are generally easy to detect. Poor environmental conditions (e.g. fog, rain and snow) have little impact on the performance of the radar which provides a useful all-weather capability for autonomous vehicles. Single chip radars with integrated processing capabilities are also available for use as small and inexpensive sensor solutions.

A disadvantage of radar is the limited lateral resolution. While the depth resolution can be good, the angular resolution is significantly lower than for optical sensors. However, this is partially mitigated if an object can be uniquely separated from other objects and clutter by its range or velocity value.

Ultrasonic

The final sensor used for range finding on autonomous vehicles is an ultrasonic sensor which emits high-frequency sounds beyond the range of human hearing. Bats are, of course, well-known users of this approach. Ultrasonic sensors are very similar to lidar sensors; however, as the speed of sound in air is vastly slower than the speed of light it is much easier to measure the time for a reflection to return from a surface.

Ultrasonic sensors work well regardless of light level or environmental conditions and are very small and inexpensive. This makes the technology ideal for ultra-short range collision avoidance sensors on small or slow moving vehicles which can be placed in many locations to provide wide area coverage.

The main disadvantage of ultrasonic sensors is their extremely short range as they can only produce distance measurements for surfaces up to a few metres away. For this reason, it is also uncommon for an ultrasonic sensor to be used to explicitly form a 3D map.

Data Fusion

In practice, to achieve a robust and effective sensor solution for autonomous vehicles it is necessary to combine different sensors and perform sensor fusion. As yet there is no standard sensor suite and research is still ongoing to determine the optimum combination with an acceptable performance across all weather conditions.

Furthermore, as an example, Tesla’s latest models that are claimed to be suitable for autonomous operation have eight cameras (with varying fields of view) and twelve ultrasonic sensors to enable panoramic sensing while a single forward-looking radar measures range and speed of objects up to 160m away.

The combination of cameras with radar is a common sensor choice as it provides good lateral and range resolution under various weather conditions for a relatively low price. It remains to be seen whether or not it is sufficient for safe autonomous operation without the addition of lidar.

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Further Reading

A Look Back in Events: Engineering Design Show 2018

A Look Back in Events: Engineering Design Show 2018

By: Ehsan Abedi
Product Designer

24th October 2018

Home » Blog » Page 2

The Engineering Design Show (EDS) exhibition was packed with over 220 exhibitors offering different areas of expertise and services. Being Plextek’s first time attending the show as exhibitors we were keen to show our creative and technical capabilities, observe how the industry is changing and exemplify how we can help others adapt to these changes.

Power of being genuine

As designers and engineers at Plextek, we are rarely involved in selling our capabilities but this proved to be of our benefit at the engineering design show. A lot of industry events are filled with slick salesmen who can sometimes intimidate or detract attention of designers, engineers and others looking to solve their own problems. As individuals untrained in selling, I found that by simply being our natural selves we felt that people at the show could chat to us genuinely and naturally on a range of matters.

We had great pleasure in meeting many like-minded engineers and designers which we hope to collaborate with. And they themselves faced a massive variety of problems, in everything from developing new wind farm technology to difficulties in intricate medical device development.

Breadth and depth in design & development

Plextek’s capabilities across the whole design and development process and history of working in a diverse range of sectors mean that we were able to interact with a lot of people at the show and think which experts within Plextek would be able to help them overcome their specific issues.


So how is the design engineering industry changing?

With a diverse range of exhibitors, workshops and conferences at the Engineering Design Show, it was possible to make observations on how the industry is changing.

Rate of change

Many people I met at EDS thought that the current rate of technological change is beginning to exceed our ability to adapt. This signifies how important it is for companies to implement a collaborative approach and ensure they are able to evolve and adapt to these rapid changes.

Automation

The technology on show at EDS demonstrated some of the major advances being made in automation. There was a range of mechatronic devices on show and it is easy to see how these technologies could be implemented within robotics and for the automation of more production processes.

Newer and more effective rapid prototyping technologies were also on show, which are continually making it cheaper and easier to rapidly design and test ideas to help inform the usability of the final products.

User Centric Design

Whether it is a small component being optimised for assembly or a final product optimised for comfort and usability, user centred design is clearly becoming more prevalent.

Designers in close contact to users are likely to build a sense of empathy for their users and hence develop more pleasing products.

The implementation of user centred design methods means products: reduce misuse, are safer to use and meet a user’s expectations and requirements. This in turn can lead to increased product sales and a reduction in the costs incurred by customer services.

Source: http://www.engineering-design-show.co.uk/gallery/

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The Engineering Design Show (EDS) exhibition was packed with over 220 exhibitors offering different areas of expertise and services. Being Plextek’s first time attending the show as exhibitors we were keen to show our creative and technical capabilities, observe how the industry is changing and exemplify how we can help others adapt to these changes.

Power of being genuine

As designers and engineers at Plextek, we are rarely involved in selling our capabilities but this proved to be of our benefit at the engineering design show. A lot of industry events are filled with slick salesmen who can sometimes intimidate or detract attention of designers, engineers and others looking to solve their own problems. As individuals untrained in selling, I found that by simply being our natural selves we felt that people at the show could chat to us genuinely and naturally on a range of matters.

We had great pleasure in meeting many like-minded engineers and designers which we hope to collaborate with. And they themselves faced a massive variety of problems, in everything from developing new wind farm technology to difficulties in intricate medical device development.

Breadth and depth in design & development

Plextek’s capabilities across the whole design and development process and history of working in a diverse range of sectors mean that we were able to interact with a lot of people at the show and think which experts within Plextek would be able to help them overcome their specific issues.


So how is the design engineering industry changing?

With a diverse range of exhibitors, workshops and conferences at the Engineering Design Show, it was possible to make observations on how the industry is changing.

Rate of change

Many people I met at EDS thought that the current rate of technological change is beginning to exceed our ability to adapt. This signifies how important it is for companies to implement a collaborative approach and ensure they are able to evolve and adapt to these rapid changes.

Automation

The technology on show at EDS demonstrated some of the major advances being made in automation. There was a range of mechatronic devices on show and it is easy to see how these technologies could be implemented within robotics and for the automation of more production processes.

Newer and more effective rapid prototyping technologies were also on show, which are continually making it cheaper and easier to rapidly design and test ideas to help inform the usability of the final products.

User Centric Design

Whether it is a small component being optimised for assembly or a final product optimised for comfort and usability, user centred design is clearly becoming more prevalent.

Designers in close contact to users are likely to build a sense of empathy for their users and hence develop more pleasing products.

The implementation of user centred design methods means products: reduce misuse, are safer to use and meet a user’s expectations and requirements. This in turn can lead to increased product sales and a reduction in the costs incurred by customer services.

Source: http://www.engineering-design-show.co.uk/gallery/

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Further Reading

Can Technology Ever Beat Face to Face Interactions?

Interview: Agnieszka Krysztul
Events Manager

17th October 2018

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This week sees the last large event we are exhibiting at for 2018.  It’s been busy: The Disruption SummitDVD and Mission Critical Technologieswere amongst the highlights of a busy season.

As a technology company, we often rely on technology too much to support our human to human interactions.   We sat down today and chatted to Agnieszka, our Event Manager to discuss whether there really is still a place for business events in today’s modern tech-driven world:

Are business events still popular?

These days we have such a high-tech lifestyle. We are working in highly competitive and fast changing environments dominated by digital technology but what hasn’t changed is that people still buy from people. Like any event, business events are organized for a strong purpose. They bring people together and give an opportunity to talk to different individuals, and meet old contacts. They are also great place to keep up with latest trends and technologies, to learn about and discover new opportunities.

Why do these business events inspire business growth?

We all attend various events in life (whether it’s a social event or for business) and we go there with the purpose to meet contacts who are all there for similar purpose. They brighten up our daily routine in life and give us a fresh view on what’s happening in our interest group.  They often strengthen our relationships, broaden our horizons and bring fresh ideas. Ultimately, it’s easier to understand a person and determine whether you want to work with them when you can see the whites of their eyes!

Whenever I go to one of these events I feel I have gained something positive. I am inspired by talking to different people and by finding out what they have been up to recently. Being in a different environment with different groups of people can give you  fresh ideas and new prospects. They bring value to both the business development team and to all employees who attend.

Is there really an employee benefit to attending events?

Yes. When I see my team getting involved in attending an event, they get engaged with different colleagues in the company that they don’t regularly speak to. It is good for team building inside the organization but also when they come back from the event, the value and the new opportunities get shared across the business. It involves all of us and helps the business work together.

One of our biggest successes for the events team is increasing our company’s reputation in the marketplace, not only as a trusted and valuable partner but also as a growing & successful business. Events are a powerful way to deliver that message.

What’s next for events in the future?

As the business world works more globally, there may be more technology involved in communicating across distance and we work with international clients on that basis. But I haven’t seen that detract from events where you can make great initial contacts. People are still prepared and seem to prefer flying the distances to meet with people face to face and make more valuable human connections in order to accelerate business.

This week we will be showing our product design and concept generation skills at the Engineering Design Show where our Product Designers, who often get stuck back at the studio, have a chance to meet with our customers and prospects on an open platform.  These are real people working on real, exciting projects, and the best way to understand what they do will always be to see them in real life.

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Further Reading

Taking the Train: Minding the Mental Gap

Nicholas Hill - Chief Executive Officer

By: Nicholas Hill
Chief Executive Officer

5th October 2018

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Where do you do your thinking and contemplate the bigger problems that need a clear head?

If you are like me it will rarely be in the office, full as it is of distractions and interruptions. I find being outdoors is productive, especially when running, as it just you and the road – no phone, email, internet or conversation. It enforces a sort of mindfulness, and I quite often come up with a solution while running that has been eluding me. However, it does have the limitation that you can’t read source material and take notes, so only helps for certain types of problems.

For the sort of thinking that requires a combination of reading, deliberation and scribbling of notes, I find the very best place is on the train – particularly one that doesn’t stop often and isn’t overcrowded. And you must get a window seat. Something about seeing the landscape slipping by is great for clearing the mind, and giving thoughts free reign to come and go. It goes without saying that the phone and laptop stay in my briefcase to avoid distraction and ‘busy work’.

It seems appropriate that from a train carriage the landscape is mostly seen in the middle and long distance. You observe the shape of the woods, not the detail of the trees. The arrangement of colours in a station car park, not the individual cars. The way a river bank gradually changes in shape as you cross paths with it over time. The small, hypnotic meanderings of the adjacent, silvery railway tracks, the sleepers and ballast blurred out by speed as you rush by.

This is just what is needed to make sense of the problems of a business – some distance and perspective, and some random stimulus to prompt new thoughts. This is particularly needed at a time when information is becoming ever easier to obtain, but the time to figure out what it means ever more scarce.

Of course you can find yourself down a mental rabbit hole due to something observed through the window. For instance, who decides on the colours of the cars we all buy? A couple of years ago we seemed to have reached ‘peak monochrome’ – all car parks were a dull sea of white, grey, silver and black. Over the previous decade or so all the coloured cars gradually disappeared.

Happily (for someone who loves colour) bright spots of colour have started to appear again in the acres of grey. Small numbers, but very eye-catching. Having observed this very slow cyclic process, I can’t help wonder at the cause: is it driven by fluctuating consumer taste, or by car manufacturers controlling the availability of colours?

Fortunately, for the most part the mind picks up on the problems at hand without any conscious effort, and you reach your destination with the satisfaction of having successfully got to grips with an issue that’s been eluding you.

So next time you have some quiet thinking to do, pack a pad and pen and jump on a train.

Must stop now, I’m approaching Liverpool Street station.

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Where do you do your thinking and contemplate the bigger problems that need a clear head?

If you are like me it will rarely be in the office, full as it is of distractions and interruptions. I find being outdoors is productive, especially when running, as it just you and the road – no phone, email, internet or conversation. It enforces a sort of mindfulness, and I quite often come up with a solution while running that has been eluding me. However, it does have the limitation that you can’t read source material and take notes, so only helps for certain types of problems.

For the sort of thinking that requires a combination of reading, deliberation and scribbling of notes, I find the very best place is on the train – particularly one that doesn’t stop often and isn’t overcrowded. And you must get a window seat. Something about seeing the landscape slipping by is great for clearing the mind, and giving thoughts free reign to come and go. It goes without saying that the phone and laptop stay in my briefcase to avoid distraction and ‘busy work’.

It seems appropriate that from a train carriage the landscape is mostly seen in the middle and long distance. You observe the shape of the woods, not the detail of the trees. The arrangement of colours in a station car park, not the individual cars. The way a river bank gradually changes in shape as you cross paths with it over time. The small, hypnotic meanderings of the adjacent, silvery railway tracks, the sleepers and ballast blurred out by speed as you rush by.

This is just what is needed to make sense of the problems of a business – some distance and perspective, and some random stimulus to prompt new thoughts. This is particularly needed at a time when information is becoming ever easier to obtain, but the time to figure out what it means ever more scarce.

Of course you can find yourself down a mental rabbit hole due to something observed through the window. For instance, who decides on the colours of the cars we all buy? A couple of years ago we seemed to have reached ‘peak monochrome’ – all car parks were a dull sea of white, grey, silver and black. Over the previous decade or so all the coloured cars gradually disappeared.

Happily (for someone who loves colour) bright spots of colour have started to appear again in the acres of grey. Small numbers, but very eye-catching. Having observed this very slow cyclic process, I can’t help wonder at the cause: is it driven by fluctuating consumer taste, or by car manufacturers controlling the availability of colours?

Fortunately, for the most part the mind picks up on the problems at hand without any conscious effort, and you reach your destination with the satisfaction of having successfully got to grips with an issue that’s been eluding you.

So next time you have some quiet thinking to do, pack a pad and pen and jump on a train.

Must stop now, I’m approaching Liverpool Street station.

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Further Reading

Foreign Object Detection Clears Runway For mm-Wave

By: Clem Robertson
Programme Manager

19th September 2018

Home » Blog » Page 2

I find myself writing about an acronym that many people have never heard about but in certain safety-critical environments, particularly airports, it is an acronym that rings alarm bells.

Foreign Object Debris (FOD) on runways and taxiways causes a risk to passenger safety and costs airlines and air forces £millions each year from the damage to aircraft. The most notorious incident was the Paris Concorde accident in 2000 where a piece of metalwork fell of a DC10 upon take-off which minutes later punctured the tyre of the Air France Concorde causing it to crash in a field shortly after take-off. Threats from FOD can consist of anything from metalwork, tools, nuts and bolts, stones and wildlife where early detection of the presence of the item is paramount. In this blog I wish to talk about how Plextek is leading the way to deliver a cost effective and scalable solution which will meet the needs of airports around the world.

The conventional method for detecting FOD still employed by many commercial and military airports involves a periodic visual inspection of the runway either by a vehicle following an aircraft after it takes off or lands or by daily FOD walking exercises where a team walks in a line across the runway detecting and collecting FOD as they go. There are a number of commercially available solutions that are able to detect FOD on a runway but are often very expensive to deploy and have their weaknesses depending on the adopted technology.

 

Our revolutionary Millimetre-Wave Radar is particularly exciting.

In partnership with a South Korean partner, Plextek has been developing two market-leading radar solutions that provide a cost-effective, scalable platform for countering the FOD threat.

Utilising our expertise in antenna and radar systems design coupled with product design, embedded hardware, software and manufacturing expertise, the Plextek FOD radar solution utilises state of the art materials and mm-wave technology to provide a versatile cost-effective radar capable of detecting, discriminating and alerting the presence of a M5 nut and bolt (2cm object) to sub 10cm resolution at ranges of greater than 400m. When combined with our partner’s EO/IR and FOD detection command and control interface, the radar is capable of alerting the operator of new FOD within 1 minute of the FOD occurring.

So what is Innovative about the Plextek FOD radar solution?

Plextek has developed a common radar platform which can be deployed in either a stationary or mobile configuration.

The stationary radar setup is primarily aimed at high traffic airfield applications like commercial airfields where 24 hour, real-time and continuous surveillance for FOD is paramount to the safety and operational efficiency of the airport. Multiple stationary radar sensors along with EO/IR sensors are installed on towers down the side of the runway. Each stationary radar scans a portion of the runway looking in real-time for changes in the environment.


The mobile radar setup is designed to be installed on the top of a vehicle and driven down the runway between aircraft take-off and landings. The mobile radar sensor replaces the need for the person in the vehicle to detect FOD by visual inspections alone. This radar option is targeted at lower traffic airports like domestic airfields and military airports where there is not a need for 24h constant FOD surveillance or the necessary investment to install a stationary FOD setup.


Both Plextek FOD variants are presently performing extremely well on field trials in South Korea. Plextek is on schedule to start commercial field trials of both radar variants at Incheon International airport in Q1 2019 with both radars entering full operational service by 2020.

For me, it has been a pleasure to project manage such a groundbreaking piece of technology and I am excited to see the radar in operation at Incheon airport in the near future.

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I find myself writing about an acronym that many people have never heard about but in certain safety-critical environments, particularly airports, it is an acronym that rings alarm bells.

Foreign Object Debris (FOD) on runways and taxiways causes a risk to passenger safety and costs airlines and air forces £millions each year from the damage to aircraft. The most notorious incident was the Paris Concorde accident in 2000 where a piece of metalwork fell of a DC10 upon take-off which minutes later punctured the tyre of the Air France Concorde causing it to crash in a field shortly after take-off. Threats from FOD can consist of anything from metalwork, tools, nuts and bolts, stones and wildlife where early detection of the presence of the item is paramount. In this blog I wish to talk about how Plextek is leading the way to deliver a cost effective and scalable solution which will meet the needs of airports around the world.

The conventional method for detecting FOD still employed by many commercial and military airports involves a periodic visual inspection of the runway either by a vehicle following an aircraft after it takes off or lands or by daily FOD walking exercises where a team walks in a line across the runway detecting and collecting FOD as they go. There are a number of commercially available solutions that are able to detect FOD on a runway but are often very expensive to deploy and have their weaknesses depending on the adopted technology.

 

Our revolutionary Millimetre-Wave Radar is particularly exciting.

In partnership with a South Korean consortium, Plextek has been developing two market-leading radar solutions that provide a cost-effective, scalable platform for countering the FOD threat.

Utilising our expertise in antenna and radar systems design coupled with product design, embedded hardware, software and manufacturing expertise, the Plextek FOD radar solution utilises state of the art materials and mm-wave technology to provide a versatile cost-effective radar capable of detecting, discriminating and alerting the presence of a M5 nut and bolt (2cm object) to sub 10cm resolution at ranges of greater than 400m. When combined with our partner’s EO/IR and FOD detection command and control interface, the radar is capable of alerting the operator of new FOD within 1 minute of the FOD occurring.

So what is Innovative about the Plextek FOD radar solution?

Plextek has developed a common radar platform which can be deployed in either a stationary or mobile configuration.

The stationary radar setup is primarily aimed at high traffic airfield applications like commercial airfields where 24 hour, real-time and continuous surveillance for FOD is paramount to the safety and operational efficiency of the airport. Multiple stationary radar sensors along with EO/IR sensors are installed on towers down the side of the runway. Each stationary radar scans a portion of the runway looking in real-time for changes in the environment.


The mobile radar setup is designed to be installed on the top of a vehicle and driven down the runway between aircraft take-off and landings. The mobile radar sensor replaces the need for the person in the vehicle to detect FOD by visual inspections alone. This radar option is targeted at lower traffic airports like domestic airfields and military airports where there is not a need for 24h constant FOD surveillance or the necessary investment to install a stationary FOD setup.


Both Plextek FOD variants are presently performing extremely well on field trials in South Korea. Plextek is on schedule to start commercial field trials of both radar variants at Incheon International airport in Q1 2019 with both radars entering full operational service by 2020.

For me, it has been a pleasure to project manage such a groundbreaking piece of technology and I am excited to see the radar in operation at Incheon airport in the near future.

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Further Reading