Drones to the Rescue in Pollution Disasters
Disasters such as wild fires, volcano eruptions and chemical plant accidents can very quickly and severely impact air quality and safety and are often beyond the range of air monitoring station networks. As the technical lead of a European consortium, CSEM is about to change all that with a drone-mounted laser sensor able to rapidly identify multiple hazardous gases in the air.
Assessing air quality and pollution levels is critical in the immediate aftermath of natural and industrial disasters. Equipping a drone with a high performance air sensor would provide the real-time air quality data vital to decision-making on the ground and the safety of response forces and populations in the area.
To realize such a breakthrough, CSEM proposed a new type of photonics sensor able to fly on a high-speed drone which it is now developing within the European Commission H2020 project FLAIR.
CSEM's design is based on a broadband (supercontinuum) laser source and a compact and lightweight design of dispersive elements allowing for the fast detection of several toxic gas molecules simultaneously. This contrasts with standard commercial optical gas sensors which usually focus on just one or a few specific gas molecules by using a single or several narrow spectrum lasers.
In CSEM's sensor, the generated 2-dimensional absorption spectra - in the 2-5 microns and more challenging 8-12 microns fingerprints windows - are imaged on infrared cameras, enabling the use of machine learning techniques for the efficient detection of a range of different gas molecules present in the sampled air.
Alongside its future role in disaster response efforts, the new sensor will also be applicable in industrial settings to trace gas leaks.