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The importance of understanding airspace activity

The air around us is a complex environment, with continuous activity from both aircraft and animals alike. Awareness and understanding of this airspace - and what is going on within it - is crucial for ensuring safe and secure operation of airports, stadia, critical national infrastructure sites and other locations which are susceptible to harm.

The increasing complexity of airspace

With the recent proliferation of uncrewed air systems (UAS) - or drones - this airspace is becoming ever more busy, and its management and monitoring more difficult. As well as providing countless benefits such as low-carbon, low-cost transportation, surveillance and delivery services, this technology brings with it new risks. Unauthorised drone activity can lead to significant harms, including disrupting emergency response efforts, compromising privacy, and posing physical threats through collisions with crewed aircraft or interference with critical infrastructure operations. In the extreme case, malicious actors can use UAS as a means to deliver weapons, as is being demonstrated in conflicts around the globe.

Cooperative and noncooperative airspace users

In civilian environments, most airspace users are well-behaved and want you to be aware of their movements and intentions. Electronic conspicuity measures enable this, from ADS-B transponders fitted to aircraft to more recently introduced Remote ID devices on small consumer drones. These measures mean that these airspace users can easily make themselves visible to air traffic management systems, allowing operators to monitor their passage and mitigate potential hazards. However, the threat comes from those users who are not well-behaved, and do not want to share information with these systems or those people monitoring them. These users - as well as other "noncooperative" objects such as birds - must be detected using sensors. There are a number of different sensor technologies available, each of which can detect airborne objects in different ways; these might include radiofrequency (RF) detectors, radars, optical sensors (cameras), or acoustic sensors, amongst others.

More than detection

Detecting objects within an airspace is just part of the solution: it is also vital to understand what these objects are, and to assess whether they are a potential threat. This is where sensor processing algorithms are key; these are what turn the data collected by a sensor network into actionable situational awareness information, such as the class of object (e.g. bird or UAS) or an estimate of the potential threat posed by it. Some of these algorithms are tied into a specific sensor, and act to make sense of the data collected by it. Others are "sensor-agnostic", and can operate on data from a range of sensors to provide analysis information. Our own software, Octa, is one such capability, powered by cutting-edge artificial intelligence (AI). Octa takes data feeds from one or more sensors of different types, and provides a range of situational awareness - including classifying the object and predicting its future path - based on its dynamics: the way that the object moves through the air.

A combination of technologies to provide situational awareness

The importance of understanding your airspace - and maintaining situational awareness of it - cannot be overstated. Through a combination of the above technologies, this can be achieved and the safety and security for those on the ground and in the air ensured. Through the use of electronic conspicuity and sensor deployments, both cooperative and non-cooperative users of the airspace can be monitored in real time. Advanced sensor processing algorithms and AI capabilities - like our very own Octa - can analyse this data to provide additional information, such as classifying the types of object being detected and predicting their intent and future behaviour.

By staying informed of the dynamic environment above us, we can minimise potential risks and safeguard our airports, stadia, critical national infrastructure sites, and anywhere else susceptible to harm.


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