Innovative "smartVision" - system replaces view from tower
Enhanced air traffic control efficiency
The skies over Germany are only seemingly empty: in fact, the German air traffic control authority DFS counted around three million aircraft movements in 2012 alone which equates to about 8,000 per day. To manage such a large number of takeoffs, landings and flyovers is a huge challenge for Air Traffic Management (ATM). Rheinmetall Defence Electronics (RDE) and Vienna-based Frequentis have developed smartVision, a solution that optimises the classical view of the air traffic controller from the tower and enhances the safety and efficiency of ATM.
According to regional director Marcus Ruff, marketing and sales (GCC/Middle East) for reconnaissance and fire control products at RDE in Bremen, the view from the tower window is still essential in spite of modern radar systems. “Especially on the ground – i.e. on runways and taxiways, on the airport apron or at military air bases – aircraft traffic and other vehicles or persons are best controlled with simultaneous visual contact.” The situation during final approach and takeoff is similar.”
The smartVisison system developed by Rheinmetall Defence and Frequentis provides an innovative solution for visualisation of the ATC tower surroundings at an airport or airfield. smartVision is based on advanced thermal imaging technology and incorporates a video-based surveillance and tracking functionality. For the first time, this gives air traffic controllers a complete alternative to their own vision, whilst concurrently offering functions far superior to the human eye.
smartVision is based on the RDE sensor systems First and MSP (see info box). These simultaneously allow a networked panoramic and detailed display of the surrounding airfield. Both selected ground areas such as runway thresholds, wait points and taxiways, and approaching and departing air targets can be displayed very precisely with the help of First and MSP. Ruff adds: “And this is possible when visibility is good and also when weather conditions are bad.” Thanks to the latest IR-technology, Rheinmetall sensors are not influenced by the typical constraints of a modern camera like glare and bad contrast in the dark.
First (Fast InfraRed Search and Track)
First (Fast InfraRed Search and Track) is a rotating IR reconnaissance sensor that generates a permanent video stream without delay and a 360° x 18° panoramic view. First is suitable for the simultaneous detection of up to 256 aircraft, ground vehicles or persons, animals or even birds and showing the operator the exact position of an object (in azimuth and elevation) in relation to the position of the sensor.
While First automatically detects, alarms and tracks objects, MSP allows the air traffic controller to visually verify and identify such pre-classified targets. Both sensors are suitable for permanent 24-hour operation under any climatic conditions and have a wide detection and reconnaissance range. Furthermore, MSP is able to determine the exact position of an individual target and display it on a map. The images of both sensors are processed, analysed and displayed on any number of screens by the Multi Mode /Multi Target Tracking (MMT) software.
Another benefit offered by smartVision is that it allows remote control of tower functions. Such a so-called remote tower approach allows surveillance and control of any air traffic during final approach, takeoff and traffic on the runway and ground from any position whatsoever: and the controller does not necessarily have to be at the respective airfield. Ruff explains that remote towers make it possible to maintain all tower functions in the event of a fire or a terrorist attack. “Besides, several small airfields or airbases with only limited aircraft movement can be controlled efficiently from one central control station.”
smartVision has already undergone successful testing in cooperation with the German air traffic control authority (DFS) at Dresden Airport. The DFS was extremely positive about the system. ATM specialists concluded that – under different weather conditions and especially in the dark – the advanced capabilities of smartVision offer distinct advantages over the conventional view from the control tower. DFS controllers especially praised the precision and sharpness of the display and the stable tracking enabled by RDE sensors.
MSP (Multi Sensor Plattform)
MSP (Multi Sensor Platform) is an imaging, stabilised infrared sensor offering a field of view of 360° (in azimuth) and between -40° and +85° (elevation). The platform is equipped with a high-resolution IR sensor, a daylight camera and a laser rangefinder. The MSP is therefore capable of tracking (in other words showing the movement of) any object detected by First or by radar and performing visual reconnaissance. The distance, velocity, flight direction, altitude as well as angles of elevation and azimuth in relation to the location of the sensor are measured continuously and displayed to the operator.
Just a few words on RDE’s project partner: Frequentis AG is an acknowledged high-end supplier of communication and information systems with a special focus on civil and military air traffic control, security and defence. Headquartered in Vienna and established in 1947, Frequentis has a workforce of 1200 around the world. The company’s German representation is in Langen near Frankfurt am Main.