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Alert System Perfected by KU Researchers May Have Prevented Deadly Crash

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Vector sensing system for aircraft
LAWRENCE — Researchers at the University of Kansas have perfected an acoustic vector sensing system for general aviation vehicles that might have helped prevent the fatal collision between a helicopter and a passenger plane over New York’s Hudson River on Aug. 9.

The university’s application for a patent on the system is in process.

Using technology shared by Dutch researchers, Ron Barrett-Gonzalez, associate professor of aerospace engineering at KU, created the Micro-Anemometer Anti-Fouling Instrumentation and Apparati system, which uses vector sensing and a small cockpit display to provide pilots with accurate alerts within a 10-kilometer radius.

The technology for vector sensing was developed by a Dutch company, Microflown Technologies. To make their sensors work better in dusty, dirty and water-laden environments, new self-cleaning technologies were developed; Barrett-Gonzalez, using a grant from KU's Transportation Research Institute, was able to create an anti-fouling process that will allow the acoustic vector sensor based system to work for a much longer time in debris-filled environments like those experienced in flight.

"We've now made it so that for a relatively low cost, we can give a general aviation pilot information on every vehicle around him, including bearing, distance, altitude and even model and manufacturer,” said Barrett-Gonzalez. “If a pilot was in a situation where another craft was nearby and collision was imminent, the system would sound an alert and urge evasive maneuvers.”

The system has been tested on a small scale and showed 100 percent effectiveness in being able to withstand rain, dust, dirt, debris and the rigors of flight. The system was tested with a ground setup that tracked vehicles ranging in size from a full-size helicopter to a model plane with accuracy of within less than 1 meter at distances of 10 kilometers. The system also does not rely on other aircraft having a counterpart of the system.

Barrett-Gonzalez estimated that the system would add around $10,000 to the cost of an airplane or helicopter, but he said that the cost was minuscule compared to the cost of systems used on commercial aircraft.

“This is an inexpensive way to provide thousands and thousands of pilots with another layer of safety to help make sure that mid-air collisions don’t happen again,” said Barrett-Gonzalez, whose research was assisted by graduate students Scott Cravens and his brother, Travis Cravens, who both received bachelor’s degrees in aerospace engineering this spring.

The Transportation Research Institute provides an organizational framework that focuses on current and future research activities primarily on six interrelated areas: vehicle technologies and alternative fuels; safety and human factors; information systems and logistics; transportation infrastructure; socio-political and economic issues; and, environmental assessment. Currently, the institute is emphasizing three areas: prolonging life and safety of transportation infrastructure, developing advanced vehicle and fuel technologies, and improving safety for inattentive and aging driver population. The institute encourages faculty members, staff researchers and graduate students from across campus to take part in multidisciplinary programs and annual solicitations for proposals. 


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