TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. – Air Force civil engineering experts are continuing to explore and merge new technologies to strengthen the service by accelerating change and enhancing CE capabilities.
The Air Force Civil Engineer Center’s Planning and Integration and Readiness Directorates recently hosted their second annual capability demonstration event at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, featuring small, unmanned aerial and ground vehicles containing light detection and ranging, or LiDAR, an autonomous remote-sensing technology.
Industry partner, Hexagon Federal USA/Leica, demonstrated two products including the BLK2FLY, a small unmanned aerial system, and the BLK ARC, an autonomous mobile laser scanner that can be integrated with unmanned ground systems, such as the Boston Dynamics Spot “canine” robot. The BLK2FLY’s fully integrated autonomous flying laser scanner captures building exteriors, structures and environments. It can scan entire buildings, including inaccessible areas such as rooftops, while navigating safely around obstacles.
Data gathered can be processed to create colorized 3D point clouds used to produce 3D models, drawings and visuals to support critical decision making. This could revolutionize civil engineering solutions and increase lethality for facility investments, real property management, energy support, operations support, environmental and readiness and emergency management, said event organizers with planning and integration’s Geospatial Integration Office.
“It was a great presentation of a concept for us to take into consideration as we move forward for the CE enterprise and how we do airfield damage response,” said Senior Master Sgt. Michael Bowman, Air Force engineering specialist force development manager. “A lot of things they’ve shown us meet our objectives, and I look forward to seeing what they can do in the future.”
The benefits of LiDAR paired with autonomous unmanned system technology can prove beneficial in numerous areas enterprise-wide, Bowman said. For example, small unmanned aerial systems, or SUAS, and LiDAR technology could transform the Air Force’s environmental program, he said.
“Using drone technology to collect data in remote areas improves land surveys, floodplain mapping and endangered species management,” he said. “It would give us information about the conditions of the area and any potential obstacles for landing aircraft and the number of people that can fit into a specific environment.”
As the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center, AFCEC’s parent agency, intensifies its focus on infrastructure readiness and modernization, it will rely on AFCEC’s expertise and cutting-edge technology to overhaul infrastructure management and restore readiness, said Julio Toala, AFCEC GIO operations manager and SUAS project manager.
“With this next level of survey equipment, we can survey and collect data in places that are difficult or dangerous to access by other means,” he said. “Cost and safety concerns have increasingly shifted our focus to transition to this new survey equipment.”
“Each AFCEC directorate has its own mission in play,” added José Alfonsín, GeoBase program capabilities developer. “We’re bringing in technologies to consider that could complement traditional technologies to be added to CE toolkits to help simplify and create a safer environment for them to work in.”
Currently, LiDAR technology is only used to fly over each installation once every five years. With the LiDAR technology on display during the demonstration, it would help supplement and fill in any missing gaps, Alfonsín said.
“If an area on base is flooded, a drone can be flown to create a virtual surface, enabling us to see where the water is coming from in real-time, so we don’t have to rely on potentially out of date information,” said Staff Sgt. Javier Rodriguez, GeoBase technician.
It could also help the Rapid Airfield Damage Assessment System program in assessing and repairing damaged runways.
“After a runway attack, a drone could be flown over the runway to collect data that can quickly be relayed back to leadership, allowing them to create a plan for tasking repair crews and the explosive ordnance division,” said Sean Cloud, AFCEC RADAS program manager. “Our goal is to increase the ability to get runways back into working order quickly and remove Airmen from harm’s way.”
Whether during routine inspections or following a natural disaster or enemy attack, the ability to autonomously gather data and information can improve safety by reducing the frequency of Airmen entering potentially dangerous areas or situations.
“We’re always looking at accomplishing the mission quickly while reducing the risk to our personnel as much as possible,” said Tech. Sgt. Patrick Hayes, Tyndall AFB Silver Flag engineering contingency training instructor. “These unmanned technologies will keep people off the battlefield and out of danger.”