Ideas and discoveries

6 September 2022

FIT scientists want to prevent pilots from being blinded by lasers. They are developing a security system that will find the attacker

In most cases, the attackers try to hit the aircraft during take-off or landing | Autor: Pixabay

When the pilot of the plane prepares to land on the runway, a blinding green beam illuminates the entire cabin. He/she was just hit from the ground by an attacker equipped with a laser. The police register several dangerous incidents a year that can cause a tragic air accident. Václav Havel Airport, together with the Police of the Czech Republic, therefore approached scientists from the FIT (Faculty of Information Technology) BUT (Brno University of Technology), CTU ( Czech Technical University) and the University of Defence. The aim is to design a system of aerial protection against low-energy lasers.

Most of the time, attackers try to hit aircraft at the most vulnerable moments – when they are taking off or landing. Although the aircraft is partially controlled by automatic controls at that moment, manual intervention of the pilot is necessary for the correct direction to the runway. “This usually happens at night, when the beam can irradiate the entire cabin and momentarily blind the pilot. The low-energy lasers used by the attackers have a range of up to 10 kilometres. It is virtually impossible for the police to locate their position and find them in time,” explains Martin Drahanský, project leader from the Institute of Intelligent Systems at FIT BUT.

In most cases, attackers target airports with higher traffic, where their chances of hitting an aircraft increase. “It's easier for them to hit a big transport plane because it can't stop or change direction. If they target a helicopter, for example, the situation can backfire on them. Someone decided to blind a military helicopter at a military airfield. But it flew to the source, dropped lower and the soldiers rappelled right down to the attacker. In standard flight operations, however, it is almost impossible to catch an attacker, as he/she 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 TA CR (Technology Agency of the Czech Republic) at FIT BUT in cooperation with other institutions mentioned above. Its goal 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 installed at the airport. They are necessary to be able to identify the laser beam even in good weather conditions, when its visibility is not emphasized 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 beam path and project the coordinates of where the person with the laser is on the map. This information is then immediately received by the patrol,” Drahanský explains the principle of the security system.

However, according to him, the actual design of 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, the edge detector based on image rotation is 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 to make the system fast, functional and relatively storage-friendly,” he points out.

The next challenge will be to identify the attacker in time. “The system will locate the attacker accurately, but if he/she is several kilometres away, he/she will probably leave the scene before the police arrive. And if the patrol does catch him/her, it will not be easy to prove his/her criminal activity,” Drahanský said.

Scientists are therefore considering the future use of so-called patrol drones that would not disrupt the security of the no-fly zone near the airport. “At the moment we would have found out the coordinates of the 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 follow him/her to the car, where it recognises the registration plate of the vehicle. It then immediately sends the information to the police patrol, which is already able to find it in traffic,” Drahanský suggests.

In about a year, the researchers want to test the system in the military premises of the University of Defence and BUT – they will also approach the Brno Airport for trial cooperation. After testing, the system will be installed at Václav Havel Airport. There is nothing similar in the Czech Republic or abroad.


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