"Seeing" Through Fog Could Save Jet Fuel
April 27, 2017
New Technology Aimed at Helping Pilots Land on Foggy Runways and Find People Faster During Search and Rescue Operations
PORTLAND, Ore. – Funding and business support from Oregon BEST is helping a Wilsonville, Ore., startup collaborate with researchers at Oregon TECH to fast-track a clean technology that makes it possible for pilots to "see" through dense fog.
The technology has the potential to reduce the estimated 30 million gallons of jet fuel currently wasted annually in the U.S. when fog delays airport landings and aircraft are rerouted to other airports or enter holding patterns.
Other applications for the technology include enabling helicopter pilots to locate lost hikers in wilderness areas or survivors of natural disasters. Rooftop helipads at hospitals could also utilize the technology to help pilots more effectively distinguish the landing pads amid dense urban lighting.
The technology, developed by Kerr Avionics, LLC, consists of a video camera synced with LED lights on the ground that are set to pulse at a specific frequency. Proprietary software then digitally removes all other background data making the fog-obscured LED lights visible to pilots. (Photo below: Lab bench simulation of dim airfield light in brightly lit fog.)
"Nobody can control fog or bad weather, so we are mitigating that," said Dick Kerr, the company's founder and managing partner. "Our technology basically turbo-charges existing LED lighting systems to make them more efficient, isolating the energy emitted by the lights so it can be picked out."
Minor modifications to existing power sources can produce the pulsing, which is not visible to the human eye. These power sources range from a single, battery-powered beacon a hiker might carry to large sources that power airport runway lighting systems consisting of thousands of light bulbs.
In recent years, major airports have switched to long-life, low-energy LED lights to save electricity and reduce the cost of replacing bulbs.
Although the technology was developed six years ago by a company Kerr helped found, the recent adoption of LED lighting has positioned airports to embrace the technology.
"The seminal change has been the proliferation of LED lighting," Kerr said. "Six years ago, when we mentioned this technology to someone, they would say, yeah, sure, but you'd have to switch out all the light bulbs. But today, many airports have switched to commercially available, off-the-shelf LED lighting elements that require just a simple in-line modification to the ground side of the power circuit to work with our system."
Before customers are willing to embrace the technology, however, software updates and third-party testing is needed, Kerr said.
That's where a $160,000 early-stage investment from Oregon BEST comes in. The funding is enabling collaboration between Kerr Avionics and Oregon TECH researchers Scott Prahl (pictured far right with students and Dick Kerr) and Allan Douglas at the Oregon TECH Optics Lab. The professors and their students are upgrading the software and will help facilitate testing at Sandia National Labs, home to the nation's largest fog chamber.
"The testing at Sandia will be a seminal event for us," said Kerr, who was Vice President and CTO of FLIR Systems, Inc. from 1987 to 2000 and founder and CTO of Max-Viz, Inc. (now a division of Astronics, Inc.) from 2000 to 2015.
Every week, Kerr and his team meet with the Oregon TECH professors and students at the Wilsonville campus. "They are all very sharp," he said. "We're excited about the potential talent pool at Oregon TECH, and we are already thinking about follow-on projects there."
Kerr calls the relationship with Oregon BEST very smooth and constructive. "I am impressed by Oregon BEST's focus, how finely resolved everyone is to the requirements of this project and how clear they are with their expectations. That's very unique."
Oregon BEST offers a wide range of funding and support for cleantech startups in Oregon, and currently has more than 40 start-up companies listed as Oregon BEST Companies that are receiving help moving their technologies to the marketplace.
"We're excited to be helping bring this technology closer to market," said Ken Vaughn, Director of Commercialization Programs at Oregon BEST. "This is yet another example of how clean technologies being developed here in Oregon are helping the world reduce our dependence on fossil fuels while creating green jobs."
About Oregon BEST http://oregonbest.org
An economic development catalyst, Oregon BEST funds and supports innovative cleantech startups across Oregon, connecting these companies with state and federal resources, while preparing them for follow-on investment through a series of focused programs. Oregon BEST provides leadership and leverages its expertise, resources and relationships to achieve impact beyond its scale. Founded in 2007, Oregon BEST is an independent nonprofit supported by the Oregon Innovation Council and Business Oregon. Learn more at OregonBEST.org
About Kerr Avionics http://kerravionics.com
Specializing in advanced research and development of electronic multi-spectral imaging systems for airborne platforms, Kerr Avionics developed, patented and is commercializing image processing software systems that will virtually eliminate missed landings due to restricted visibility, provide backup precision guidance that is immune to jamming of current GPS approach to landing systems, enable precision navigation and tracking to pinpoint locations, both fixed and mobile, on land and sea, and multiply the efficiencies of next-generation air traffic control systems (ADS-B), greatly reducing the environmental impact of commercial aviation.