Aeolus – Mid-altitude maritime monitoring platform for security, search & rescue and environmental monitoring
AELOUS is a mid-altitude airborne maritime sensor platform which significantly increases the operating surveillance range by increasing the elevation of the monitoring systems. The Aeolus platform can effectively operate at 450m above the ship – increasing the surveillance area in excess of 11 times of what can be monitored with existing solutions. The platform can be used with multiple lifting systems and can be deployed for many hours. It is being trialled by Naval and Search&Rescue Services.
The AEOLUS programme was developed through collaboration with a number of prominent organisations in Ireland, including Defence Forces, Enterprise Ireland, SEAI (Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland), Nimbus Research Centre, Halpin Research Centre and University of Limerick.
We started the project in 2013 with the overall goal to increase the application of advanced technology by the Irish Naval Service (INS) to enhance its operational effectiveness and efficiency. Initial phases of the programme looked at integrating propulsion kite technology on an INS ship to reduce fuel consumption. Further discussion led to the idea of utilising the kite elevation to increase surveillance capabilities for the vessel below. A proposal to investigate the possibility of developing a mid-altitude sensor platform which could be hung from the kite, or any other lifting system, led to an independent feasibility study being conducted. The outcome of which highlighted the opportunities for such a platform in security, search & rescue and environmental monitoring applications.
The Problem - Navies across the world are being asked to deliver more civil and military services on tighter defence budgets and current monitoring systems fitted to ships can only monitor out to 14 Nautical Miles (Nm) – as at that point the curvature of the earth begins to hide objects behind the horizon.
The primary objective and innovation of the Aeolus project is to develop an effective, flexible, configurable, low power and cost effective maritime monitoring and surveillance platform that can be operated above a seagoing vessel at an altitude of 50 to 450 metres thereby increasing a large vessel’s monitoring and surveillance area by up to 10 times. For smaller vessels, the increase is even greater, up to 20 times.
To date we have developed and trialled in the Atlantic a prototype (version 3.5) of the Aeolus Platform. The project has delivered a 22kg, 0.4m3 (800mm x 610mm x 740mm) modularised, lifting-system agnostic maritime monitoring platform that has been test flown at sea with the Irish Naval Service to an altitude of 150 metres in winds of 30kts (55kph) and a 1.5 metre swell. At 150 metres (≈600 feet), the platform extended the vessel’s visual horizon from 9nm to 24nm (16km to 44km) and the radio/radar horizon from 10nm to 27nm (18km to 51km). The vessel’s visual monitoring area was increased from 234nm2 to 1751nm2 (801km2 to 6006km2) and the radio monitoring area from 311nm2 (1067km2) to 2332nm2 (7999km2).
The version 3.5 AEOLUS platform contains a number of sensors and sub-systems which include:
•A customised surface target detection radar,
•3-axis radar stabilisation sub-system, a
•3-axis stabilised visual and night vision high definition camera,
•Wind speed monitoring,
•A wide band radio signal detection system with direction finding capability,
•On-board power, management and diagnostics sub-systems,
•Robust, secure platform-vessel communications link,
•Ground station to receive and process platform data and software to manage platform operation,
•Middleware API and a first iteration user interface.
With the exception of the radar that has been customised in this project, all these systems and software have been substantially or entirely developed by the technical team during this project.
The next phase of the project will iterate the design to include enhanced AI, LIDAR, FLIR, ruggedized shell, reduced size and weight. Trials are planned with Irish Naval Service, Norwegian Search and Rescue and others.
A spinout company is planned to exploit the technology that would target maritime security and humanitarian applications including fisheries and drug enforcement, search & rescue, vessel and personnel security and anti-piracy missions.
Full video can be found on our website. www.aeolus.ie
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The innovative principle behind the Aeolus platform looks at extending the available line of sight. Current monitoring systems fitted to ships can monitor out to 14 Nm. As at that point the curvature of the earth begins to hide objects over the horizon. By increasing the elevation of the monitoring systems the line of sight can be extended resulting in a greater area under surveillance. The Aeolus platform can operate at 450m above the ship with an increased visible area of 1,121%. The platform innovation includes a sensor fusion in the platform containing a stabilised surface detection radar and HD camera, AIS receiver, wind speed, wide band radio signal detection system with direction finding capability, power mgt system, secure platform-vessel coms link, ground station and software to manage platform ops and data analytics. The key intellectual property in the system lies system fusion of sensor technologies and the artificial intelligent systems to assist in object identification.
What is the current status of your innovation?
The Aeolus project is at the Implementation phase with version 3.5 trialling underway offshore with the Irish Naval Service on the LE Eithne – P31 Patrol vessel. The project has brought together an exemplary group of public and private sector stakeholders including Irish Defence Forces, the Nimbus Centre, the Halpin Centre, University of Limerick, Enterprise Ireland and Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland all working together to deliver the project. Performance to date has been excellent and based on the lessons learnt a new phase of work is starting to develop version 4.0 for extended trials with Search & Rescue and Naval/Customs services across Europe.
For the development of version 4.0 and the extended trials we have agreement to trial with several key sectoral partners in Europe and we are actively looking for more. This will lead to the commercialisation of the technology and a spin-out company.
Collaborations & Partnerships
Defence Forces – Governance, access to Naval vessels, personnel and facilitating global networking
Enterprise Ireland – Funding
SEAI (Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland – Funding
Nimbus – Cyberphysical Systems Applied R&D - (Part of CIT) – Funding, management and tech development
Halpin – Marine Mechatronics Applied R&D – (Part of CIT) – Funding and sectoral&technical expertise
UL – Robotics – Technical expert
Companies - Swiss Drones, Allsopp Kites, Radar and SDR Suppliers.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Defence Forces / Coast Guard – Access to new low cost surveillance platform providing extended situational awareness and operational efficiencies.
Search and Rescue - Access to new low cost search platform providing extended situational awareness. Increasing the potential for positive rescue outcomes.
Nimbus / Halpin – New spin-out company (to be formed) providing economic activity, international presence and employment in maritime sector.
Seismic Surveying – Enhanced situation awareness.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
The primary objective of the Aeolus project is to develop an effective, flexible, configurable, low power and cost effective maritime monitoring and surveillance platform that can be operated above a seagoing vessel at an altitude of 50 to 450 metres thereby increasing a large vessel’s monitoring and surveillance area by up to 10 times. For smaller vessels, the increase is even greater, up to 20 times. To date project has developed a 22kg, modularised, lifting-system agnostic maritime monitoring platform that has been test flown at sea with the Irish Naval Service to an altitude of 150 metres in winds of 30kts (55kph). At 150 metres (≈600 feet), the platform extended the vessel’s visual horizon from 9nm to 24nm (16km to 44km) and the radio/radar horizon from 10nm to 27nm (18km to 51km). The vessel’s visual monitoring area was increased from 234nm2 to 1751nm2 (801km2 to 6006km2) and the radio monitoring area from 311nm2 (1067km2) to 2332nm2 (7999km2).
Challenges and Failures
The project has had multiple challenges which have been addressed. One of the primary challenges is project funding and making the case where stakeholders are often conservative. We addressed this by working closely with key advocators of innovative change in these organisations and persistence. Resources were also a major problem. There is a significant shortage of experienced personnel in the market, it took persistence to attract and keep the right people for the job. Weather in Ireland off the Atlantic coast is also a challenge and disrupted our onshore and offshore trialling schedule. What we learnt here is the weather is always going to be a problem, being patient is critical.
Conditions for Success
Our project ia an exemplar of public sector organisations working together and with the private sector to deliver game-changing innovation. The key conditions for success were as follows:
- Sponsorship at the top of the key organisations essential. The Defence Forces provided Brigadier General Peter O’Halloran and Commander Brian FitzGerald demonstrated exemplary leadership to bring us this far in the project. Enterprise Ireland and the SEAI also provided top-level cover to help navigate the funding issues.
- Established a governance model which included all the right people/organisations to underpin decisions and provide guidance.
We chose the right academic / applied technology team from the INS / Halpin / Nimbus / UL to deliver the project. We also embedded Irish Naval personnel in the team.
- Halpin and Nimbus provided extensive funding and have been highly motivated to deliver Aeolus. Key sponsors - Richard Linger (Nimbus Technology Gateway Manager) and Cormac Gebruers (NMCI Manager).
The process used to deliver Aeolus can be used as a basis for new innovative projects and is a very relevant case study in getting multiple and diverse stakeholders to focus on and deliver a major project.
There are multiple lessons learnt in this project.
1. Technology development is ALWAYS harder than you think and is a difficult and iterative process.
2. Find and keep sponsors and stakeholders that share your vision.
3. Funding is always a challenge. Try and find a pathway and phase the funding acquisition process. It will always take longer than you want, so always have a plan B and C.
4. Communication and promotion are essential to keep stakeholders current and on-board. Manage expectations, as best as you can.