FIT scientists want to prevent pilots from being blinded by lasers. They are developing a security system that will find the attacker
The pilot of the plane is preparing to land on the runway when a blinding green beam illuminates the entire cabin. He's just been hit from the ground by a laser-equipped attacker. Dangerous incidents that can cause a tragic air crash are recorded by the police several times a year. Therefore, Václav Havel Airport, together with the Police of the Czech Republic, approached scientists from the Faculty of Information Technology BUT (FIT BUT), Czech Technical University and the University of Defence. The aim is to design a system of aviation protection against low-energy lasers.
Attackers usually try to hit aircraft at the most vulnerable moments - during take-off or landing. Although the aircraft is partially controlled by an automated aircraft at that moment, manual intervention by the pilot is necessary to correctly steer the aircraft onto the runway. "This usually happens at night, when the beam can illuminate the entire cabin and momentarily blind the pilot. The low-energy lasers used by the attackers have a range of up to 10 kilometres. Locating their position and finding them in time is virtually impossible for the police," explains project leader Martin Drahanský from the Institute of Intelligent Systems at FIT BUT.
Most of the time, attackers target airports with higher traffic, where their chances of hitting an aircraft increase. "It's easier for them to hit a large transport plane because it can't stop or change direction. If they target, say, a helicopter, the situation can backfire on them. At a military airport, someone decided to hit a military helicopter. But it flew over to the source, swooped lower, and the soldiers swooped right down on the attacker. However, in standard air traffic, it is practically impossible to catch the attacker, as he may be several kilometres away from the airport's borders," Drahanský says.
The solution is to be offered by a 4-year project, which started this year under the auspices of TAČR at FIT BUT in cooperation with other institutions mentioned above. Its aim is to design a camera system using smart algorithms that can detect and locate laser sources that threaten air traffic.
"Camera systems equipped with an optometric system with a radiation amplifier will be placed at the airport. These are necessary to be able to identify the laser beam even in good weather conditions, when its visibility is not affected by small particles scattered in the air - smoke, fog or clouds. By using computer vision and choosing the right algorithm, we will be able to identify the trajectory of the beam and project the coordinates of where the person with the laser is on the map. This information is then immediately received by the patrol," explains Drahanský, explaining the principle of the security system.
However, he says, designing a functional solution will not be easy: "We have to choose a suitable algorithm that will detect the beam even in an airport environment full of light smog. So far, an edge detector based on image rotation seems to be the most suitable. Unfortunately, this is a computationally intensive operation and we need to transmit the data to the patrol within seconds, not the next day. We will therefore have to optimise the computing power and hardware solution so that the system is fast, functional and relatively compact," he points out.
The next challenge will then be to identify the attacker in time. "While the system will accurately locate the attacker, if he is several kilometres away, he will probably leave the scene before the police arrive. And if the patrol does catch him, it will not be easy to prove his criminal activity," Drahanský adds.
Therefore, in the future, scientists are considering the use of so-called patrol drones that would not disrupt the security of the no-fly zone near the airport. "The moment we would find out the coordinates of an attacker, the drone could go to the site and see if anyone is there. The thermal imaging camera can detect a person even in the dark and can track them to a car where it can recognise the registration plate of the vehicle. It then immediately sends the information to the police patrol, which can already find the person in traffic," Drahanský suggests.
In about a year, the researchers plan to test the system in military facilities at the University of Defence and the Brno University of Technology - they will also approach Brno Airport for a trial cooperation. After testing, the system will be deployed at Václav Havel Airport. There is nothing similar in the Czech Republic or abroad.