Sensor technology solutions for airport challenges


Velodyne, a Silicon Valley-based lidar technology company, demonstrates how lidar sensor technology can improve airport operations. This technology assists in various aspects of airport operations such as crowd management, baggage and outdoor tarmac operations.

Lidar sensors provide a full picture of the airport, in real time, and clearer images at longer distances than cameras. Velodyne suggests that the quality of these images is a significant improvement over traditional cameras.

Jasleen Mann speaks with Laura Wrisley, Senior Vice President of Global Sales at Velodyne, about the company’s lidar sensor and software portfolio.

Jasleen Mann: Who are the AwV partners?

Laura Wrisley: Automated with Velodyne (AwV) is a unique partner program. Through AwV, Velodyne supports more than 100 organizations, driving collaboration and innovation in next-generation autonomous solutions.

AwV is a global ecosystem with partners encompassing a wide variety of applications that reflect the depth and breadth of Velodyne’s portfolio of lidar sensors and software.

These applications fall under the following key markets: intelligent infrastructure, industrial, robotics and automotive, which includes AV and ADAS. AwV supports innovation for a growing number of companies, including those that use and deploy lidar in airport operations. Velodyne also supports leading academic programs using and evaluating lidar-driven automation through cutting-edge research and testing initiatives.

AwV enables partner development by connecting integrators to new business opportunities. AwV is also focused on developing lidar applications that can increase efficiency, safety, and improve people’s lives. As the use of lidar continues to grow globally across various industries, AwV will continue to foster the collaboration needed to make lidar ubiquitous and its benefits accessible to everyone.

What are the current challenges facing airports? Why does this happen?

Anyone who travels or is up to date with the latest news knows all too well the growing challenges faced by airports, airlines and travellers. As many travelers head to the airport to catch up on missed trips during the pandemic, we’re seeing an increase in flight delays and cancellations, congested TSA lines and lost baggage, all of which are having a huge impact on consumers. .

Airport congestion continues to grow, with more than two million passengers per day passing through security checkpoints at US airports for 52 consecutive days, according to the TSA.

Additionally, airports continue to experience staffing issues, including shortages of baggage handlers, and coupled with booming travel demand, these shortages have contributed to baggage loss. According to Department of Transport data, airlines mishandled baggage at much higher rates compared to April 2021, resulting in almost 220,000 lost, damaged or delayed bags in April 2022 alone.

All of these issues have led to historically high consumer complaints against airlines, exceeding pre-pandemic levels by more than 300%.

How does this technology work?

Lidar sensors emit pulsed light waves from a laser into the environment. These pulses bounce off surrounding objects and return to the sensor. The sensor uses the time it takes for each pulse to return to the sensor to calculate the distance the light has traveled.

Repeating this process millions of times per second creates a real-time 3D map, or point cloud, of the surrounding environment. Since the lidar acts as its own light source, the sensors provide high accuracy even at night, which can be essential for airport operations.

Using point cloud data, lidar sensors can inform the application’s on-board computer – such as a vehicle or robot – about its environment for navigation, including locating the position of objects and people to improve safety and prevent incidents.

How does lidar technology provide solutions to growing airport challenges?

Lidar technology can improve many aspects of airport operations. Airports present a complex ecosystem where precise technology can bring great value for safety and efficiency, from terminal facilities with crowd monitoring and baggage handling to equipment and cargo movements, traffic and maintenance of aircraft.

Crowd management

Airports can leverage Velodyne’s lidar and software solutions for real-time situational awareness to improve people flow analysis and management in crowded environments. Benefits include better queue and asset management, optimized passenger journey, and increased compliance and security.

Using lidar and real-time data analytics, airports can track people and objects in a way that maintains anonymity and trust while using the resulting insights to make actionable decisions and improve crowd flow. For example, using real-time information to enable rapid decision-making, an airport could open an additional TSA line to ease congestion.

Baggage transport

ThorDrive, a comprehensive developer of autonomous driving technologies for the aviation, industrial and automotive Tier 1 markets, has developed autonomous solutions leveraging Velodyne’s lidar for the safe and efficient movement of materials , cargo, baggage and people.

Equipped with Multiple Velodyne Ultra Puck Sensors, ThorDrive Uses Lidar to Power Its Cargo and Baggage Ground Support Tractors in Groundbreaking Autonomous Vehicle (AV) Program at Cincinnati Northern Kentucky International Airport (GVC).

ThorDrive’s proof of concept aims to improve airport security and cargo efficiency. By leveraging ThorDrive’s solution, airlines are able to autonomously transport baggage and cargo to and from aircraft and within facilities anytime, day or night. Safe and efficient transit of materials is essential for airlines to protect and handle cargo while maintaining tight flight schedules

Additionally, Velodyne and TLD, a global leader in ground support equipment, have entered into an agreement through 2023 for TLD to use Velodyne lidar sensors in the production of its TractEasy autonomous electric baggage tractor.

TractEasy is a zero-emission tow tractor that transfers baggage and cargo from airport terminals to aircraft areas on service roads, with a driverless approach. It can also manage the ground transport of goods on industrial sites and logistics centers, both indoors and outdoors. TractEasy can travel up to 25 km/h and has a maximum towing capacity of 25 tonnes. The tractor enables a significant increase in productivity, efficiency and labor savings in airport and industrial operations.

Outdoor monitoring

Airports can leverage Velodyne’s lidar and software to improve worker safety on the tarmac and improve the efficiency of outdoor operations. Velodyne’s end-to-end solutions provide robust, real-time analytics to predict, diagnose, and address operational and security challenges. It also works in all weather and lighting conditions all year round, which is essential in the 24 hour environment of an airport.

How does this differ from previous solutions?

Many crowd and exterior surveillance technologies for airports use cameras. Unlike cameras, lidar sensors create a high-resolution 3D map of the surrounding environment and can “see” up to 300 meters on all sides with an accuracy of a few centimeters. This allows facility managers to view a complete picture of the entire airport environment in real time.

Additionally, compared to cameras, lidar produces measurement data that generates a clearer image at longer distances, in a wide variety of weather and environmental conditions, 24/7. Through the analysis of situational data in real time, solutions using lidar can bring improvements to airport operations.

Lidar maintains and protects privacy because it does not collect biometric data, such as facial features or skin tone. This is essential to maintain public trust, as data protection and anonymity become a growing public concern.

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