7 February 2019
The European Union faces a major problem with control of its border, due to its length and because it is partially on land and partially over sea. Currently, the EU is trying to counter illegal incursions, border crossing and illegal entry, using legacy sensors and communications systems that were developed for military applications and which are not optimised for border monitoring, having limited interoperability with civil standards.
In the FOCUS edition of January 2017, we highlighted the SUNNY Programme, the development of a new intelligent aerial sensor network to monitor the external borders of the EU to combat cross-border crime and prevent the loss of migrant lives at sea.
SUNNY stands for Smart UNattended airbone sensor Network for detection of vessels used for cross border crime and irregular entrY.
The project has now been successfully completed, demonstrating an aerial sensor network with improved sensor and data transmission capacities and real-time data processing capabilities, to improve the effectiveness of the EU border monitoring compared to the legacy systems.
SUNNY demonstrated the integration of sensors, multiple UAV platforms, and a base station with interfaces with other border control systems. As part of the programme, performance and qualification tests were conducted on a range of different sensor technologies, including infrared, hyper-spectral and radar sensing.
The data collected from these sensors was combined in a fusion module. The solution included on-board data processing with an automated target identification module developed to effectively exploit information collected from the sensors. Specialist aids were developed to assist the mission controller in selecting and reacting to threats, by combining information from UAV sensors, behavioural models of potential targets, environmental sources (including AIS, weather data and geometric queries), and confirmatory user interaction.
BMT successfully coordinated the project and oversaw the development of the SUNNY base station and the related data processing and visualisation. The base station brought all the information in the system together enabling it to be analysed and shown to a mission controller. It included data fusion and machine learning algorithms to process the information from multiple sensors and detect vessels and threats.
The system learned and improved over time taking feedback both from other sensors in the system and the user. The base station offered the user with several visualisation options, including a 2D map based interface that provided the position of any assets and sensor information as well as 3D live representations of the UAVs and a full VR mission control station.
The system was fully trialled and demonstrated in the Spring of 2018, in Sao Jacinto Portugal. The trials saw 4 different UAVs in the air detecting vessels at sea. The trials proved the concept of SUNNY in an operational environment and gave the user team experience of the challenges of running and operating the SUNNY system in a real-world environment.
This text was originally published in Focus Issue 1,2019