Air2X radio coordinates vehicles, drones, rescue aircraft
The focus is on communication between helicopters, networked vehicles and drones, also known as Air2X communication in technical jargon. The project partners are using the ITS-G5 radio standard, which is already being deployed in the field of vehicle-to-X communication. Using a radio transmitter on board the helicopter, the crew first sends a signal to any drones in the vicinity to clear the airspace for the rescue mission. It then informs the connected vehicles in the immediate vicinity of the accident site of the planned landing site. These vehicles then slow down, stop and form a barrier for any following vehicles. This creates a safe landing site; the helicopter crew can act independently of rescue forces on the ground and can reach the accident victims much faster. At the same time, the safety of the rescue forces in the air, on the ground and of third parties increases. The concept was now demonstrated in practice at the IST World Congress in Hamburg.
According to DLR Executive Board member Karsten Lemmer, the technology opens up further perspectives beyond the application shown, because tomorrow’s mobility will be multimodal, i.e. it will network and combine different means of transport. “If we want to change future mobility, we have to think ahead today when it comes to technological and regulatory issues,” explains Lemmer, who is responsible on the DLR Executive Board for innovation, transfer and scientific infrastructure. “That’s why we bring together research, industry and users at Air2X. DLR research itself contributes know-how that encompasses the entire transport system: Expertise on highly automated and connected vehicles, on vehicle communication and traffic psychology, but also knowledge and experience in the field of ground-based air traffic and its management.”
“On the vehicle side, we are working close to series technology in the Air2X project. We transmit a standardised message via radio. This contains the information about a rescue mission. The vehicle has to process this information and react accordingly,” describes project manager Maik Bargmann from the DLR Institute of Transportation Systems. In the live demonstration, the DLR research vehicles reacted fully automatically to the message, braking and stopping. Plans for the future also include the automatic transmission of warning messages to all vehicles within a relevant radius.
In implementing the Air2X concept, the team had to master regulatory aspects in addition to the technological challenges. This included the release of the radio frequencies for this area of application. In general, the lead times here are long and the competition for frequency ranges is high, criticise those involved – an important factor for the further work and practical implementation of the approach.
By contrast, the use and technology of drones is much less regulated and standardised. From a safety perspective, they pose a major challenge, the project team believes: A collision between drones and helicopters can have serious consequences. The DLR scientists therefore focused on different approaches to transmitting drones appropriate information about the rescue mission. The aim is for the drones to clear the affected airspace or land in a controlled and safe manner. Special research drones from the DLR Institute of Flight Systems Technology were used in the practical test.
For the helicopter pilots, the challenge is different: on rescue missions, they are often the first on the scene with their helicopters. “The traffic is still rolling, and the crew is dependent on it stopping of its own accord at some point and a landing area being cleared or the police arriving and closing the lanes,” says Daniel Hecht, regional head of flight operations at ADAC Luftrettung and a pilot himself, describing the challenge. The Air2X technology would make it possible to create a safe landing area at the push of a button because the vehicles would be automatically brought to a stop by radio signal – provided that enough cars have this technology.
Before the first live demonstration, the project partners first had to test the installation of the hardware, connect all components and determine the required range of the radio transmitters and receivers in initial flight tests, for example. “The area of rescue mobility is very practical and understandable as a use case. It can be a pioneer and show what is possible with Air2X technology,” summarises project manager Bargmann. A follow-up project is already being planned to further explore the pilot’s interaction with the system.