Two major European tech groups are teaming up with one of the continent’s top research organizations to create drone-based solutions to clear the air – literally – following toxic disasters.
Photonics21, a think-tank specializing in the study of light detection, has created a partnership with Portuguese drone company TEKEVER Autonomous Systems and the Flying ultrA-broadband single-shot Infra-Red Sensor consortium (FLAIR) to launch a rapid-response drone system.
The fixed-wing drone will detect and measure toxic fumes in the aftermath of deadly disasters like wildfires, chemical fires or volcanic eruptions, allowing ground crews to analyze critical air-quality data in real-time.
The project is being funded by Photonics to the tune of $3.6 million and is expected to launch as a prototype by late 2018.
“For the first time, a drone reaching altitudes of up to [2.5 miles] will be able to detect fine traces of air molecules that are dangerous to our health with a state-of-the-art laser sensor,” Tekever Project Coordinator André Oliveira said in a press release. The drone can map out areas that are too dangerous for humans to go. “
The vital need for the new technology is highlighted by the devastation of 8.8 million acres caused by 52,699 individual fires in the U.S. this year alone.
Unlike standard, ground-based gas sensors, which use limited LIDAR devices, FLAIR sensors detect more detailed air-quality signatures for toxic fumes ranging from methane to sulphur dioxide.
Equipped with photonic sensors backed by FLAIR technology, the Tekever fixed-wing drone can cover a 49-mile radius at speeds up to 74 mph.
“Immediate detection with such accuracy and precision, without putting lives at risk allows us to visualize vast areas of danger much more effectively,” Oliviera said.
He explained the details:
“For the first time a gas sensing device has been created from the hybrid of an optical spectrometer and a high-resolution spectroscopy gas sensor. By employing infrared absorption spectroscopy in either the 2-5 microns and 8-12 microns wavelength windows where most of the harmful gasses have absorption signatures, the optical sensors can detect many molecules simultaneously in real time.”
In addition to the three main contributors, the project will involve five other European partner include: Senseair AB (Sweden); NKT Photonics A/S, Danmarks Tekniske Universiteit (Denmark); New Infrared Technologies SL (Spain); Stichting Katholieke Universiteit (Netherlands); Eidgenossische Materialprufungs- Und Forschungsanstalt, CSEM Centre Suisse D’Electronique et de Microtechnique SA – Recherche et Developpement (Switzerland).