Creotech Instruments S.A. developed an innovative system to coordinate unmanned air traffic and process drone imagery with potential applications in various fields. The system received its baptism of fire while supporting responders battling the wildfire in the Biebrza National Park.
The Biebrza National Park is a unique protected area in Europe. Spanning nearly 600 km2, it is the largest national park in Poland and is home to thousands of species of plants and wildlife, including those traditionally associated with the Polish landscape, such as moose, wolves, lynx or greater spotted eagles. Hence, from the first mentions of the fire in the media, Poles have been closely following the struggle.
It took a week and the efforts of hundreds of firefighters, soldiers from the Territorial Defence Force, park employees and local residents to contain the fire. The blaze consumed about 5.5 thousand ha of wetland meadows, reeds and forests, and to fight it, the State Forest Administration, Police and Border Guard deployed planes and helicopters. Firefighting efforts were hampered by the poor accessibility of fire sites by heavy equipment typically used in such operations. Pivotal to reducing damage was the accurate identification of sources of fire spread. Hence, the services involved resorted to non-standard measures.
“State Fire Service personnel from Poznań and Olsztyn took advantage of the CreoScan system. Drones were used to conduct flyovers over selected areas particularly affected by the blaze to take photogrammetric images,” said Jakub Ryzenko, head of the Crisis Information Center at the Space Research Center of the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN). “The Crisis Information Center and Creotech converted the images to orthophotomaps and 3D models to improve situational awareness during operational efforts. Moreover, output data was consistently relayed to the Provincial Control Center of the State Fire Service in Białystok, which coordinated the deployment of manpower and other resources in operation,” added Jakub Ryzenko.
The representative of the Crisis Information Center emphasized that the combination of satellite data showing the scale of the fire on a macro scale and data obtained from drone flyovers processed for visualization from the CreoScan system presented a detailed source of information on selected parts of the area and became an integral part of the process of documenting losses caused by the spread of the fire.
CreoScan – more information
CreoScan’s primary function is to provide users with accurate geospatial information related to UAV operations and the operation of selected elements of drone missions, particularly Beyond Visual Line-of-Sight (BVLOS) missions. The system also allows for data collection from other moving objects, e.g. vehicles, and enables three-dimensional, spatial visualization of their location and the information obtained by them, including images. CreoScan is highly mobile and autonomous, and its scalable hardware architecture, combined with innovative software, attracted the attention of potential clients from many completely unrelated fields and specializations.
“CreoScan was created to cater to the needs of users who need to know what is happening around them, be it on the ground or in the air. The system is mainly intended for services dealing with the organization and control of air traffic and crisis responders dealing with, e.g. fires, floods or earthquake,” said Jacek Kosiec, President of the Management Board of Creotech Instruments S.A. “It can also be successfully used during mass events and gatherings, and to monitor the condition of industrial installations, construction projects and all kinds of infrastructure. Further applications include agriculture, surveying and urban planning as recently attested by major interest from potential buyers, especially from abroad,” added Jacek Kosiec.
CreoScan consists of several subsystems and is compatible with many external devices, including drones of various classes. The central element of the system is the mobile Drone Rapid Mapping (DRM) station, used for data processing and operational command. The hardware comes in the form of a portable terminal featuring a scalable server architecture enabling efficient local processing of images obtained on an ongoing basis by UAVs and from other sources. The system’s screens display 3D maps and models generated on-site based on drone data. Processing results can be shared with nearby users or transferred to any other location via the Internet. The system boasts highly optimized hardware and software, allowing processing results to be delivered in the shortest possible time, a highly valuable feature to crisis responders.
“CreoScan was created thanks to the partnership between Creotech Instruments S.A. and the Crisis Information Center at the Space Research Center of the Polish Academy of Sciences. The system was developed and tested during a number of crisis management exercises, carried out by the State Fire Service and the Police,” said Krzysztof Mysłakowski from Creotech Instruments S.A. “During testing, in a short, operationally useful time, maps and 3D models were generated to support rescue operations and assess the situation, as well as document the site of the event for subsequent prosecutorial proceedings.”
An essential element of the system’s software is the Flight Monitoring System (FMS), which enables the realistic visualization of many complex data streams (including monitoring of current drone positioning). FMS uses a wide array of data, including satellite data of varying resolution, images from open geodetic sets, aerial data, and Bing and Google maps. The solutions employed in the system facilitate the generation of dynamic data visualizations (especially about many independent moving objects) and their real-time analysis, depending on the user’s needs. One example of such processes is continuous risk analysis related to monitoring the distance between the drone and other objects (buildings or other obstacles) mapped in a numerical 3D terrain model or the constant automatic control of restricted zone violations.
“A mobile DRM Terminal equipped with FMS enables fast, three-dimensional high-resolution visualization of specific areas. The visualizations can be viewed and analyzed directly on terminal screens or mobile devices, such as smartphones or tablets, connected to the terminal,” said Krzysztof Mysłakowski from Creotech Instruments S.A. “The major advantage of this device is its autonomy. Data is processed locally, on the device, so it can be deployed wherever access to power and connectivity is limited, such as the recent firefighting efforts in the Biebrza National Park,” added Krzysztof Mysłakowski.
Mobile air traffic control center
ADS-B GS (Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast Ground Station) mobile ground stations are an essential element of CreoScan as they collect information on the flight parameters of transponder-equipped aircraft. ADS-B is a standard widely used in aviation to position and monitor various objects, including in ground mode. Thanks to developments in miniaturization, it is now possible to place mini-transmitters on unmanned aerial vehicles and ground vehicles, enabling their continuous accurate positioning in time and space. Creotech Instruments S.A. partnered up with Szczecin-based Aerobits to apply ADS-B technology to develop the system.
Information originating from drone-mounted transmitters is pre-processed at a ground station and then transferred to a mobile DRM terminal or a cloud environment via LTE network. It is then consolidated and presented on three-dimensional terrain maps according to the user’s needs.
CreoScan ground stations are compact and weatherproof. They can be installed both permanently (e.g. on masts) and temporarily, e.g. on motor vehicles. Their dual-SIM functionality ensures a stable connection between the station and the system via mobile networks and facilitates remote device management, reconfiguration or software upgrades. The receiving station is ready for operation almost immediately after powering on. Deployed in a location offering good visibility, it can receive transponder signals from airliners within a radius of 300 km and around a dozen kilometers from drones fitted with low-power transmitters. Thanks to the built-in satellite navigation terminal, the station also transmits information about its own position to the system, which, if necessary, allows for the presentation of its location in the system together with the monitored moving objects.
The system is being consistently improved and expanded with new functionalities. Currently, final work is underway to equip the ground stations with barometers and thermometers, which will allow for real-time compensation for the barometric altitude reported by aerial vehicles, taking into account pressure fluctuations compared with the reference pressure. This will enable a more precise determination of the actual drone flight altitude, a parameter crucial in urban operations.
“ADS-B ground stations, combined with the DRM terminal’s and FMS software’s data processing capabilities, offer the ability to set up a completely autonomous UAV flight control center in a very short span of time, but a properly configured CreoScan system offers even greater possibilities,” said Bernard Stępień from Creotech Instruments S.A “Its mobility facilitates assembly and activation of the FMS monitoring system in any location. For example, it can be used to manage drone operations during mass events such as concerts and sports games to ensure safety and synchronization of parallel drone flyovers and, if needed, on-site processing of drone imagery,” added Bernard Stępień.