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Image credit: Photonics21

Photonics21, a European community for photonics researchers, has announced the development of FLAIR (“Flying ultrA-broadband single-shot Infra-Red Sensor”) drones for testing air quality in extreme environments such as volcanoes or forest fires.

Image credit: Photonics21

“For the first time, a drone reaching altitudes of up to 4,000 meters (1,312 feet) will be able to detect fine traces of air molecules that are dangerous to our health with a state-of-the-art laser sensor. The drone can map out areas that are too dangerous for humans to go and can transmit data in real time to a ground processing unit,” said André Oliveira, project coordinator of Tekever Autonomous Systems.

The FLAIR project, which Tekever Autonomous Systems coordinates, involves a drone which passes air though a “multiplass cell,” increasing the total optical path length of the exposure with a super-continuum laser. The laser absorbs and separates the different concentrations of gas in the air. The resulting light is then beamed through a group of gratings and lenses to a multi-pixel detector, which distinguishes individual particles at the photon level.

An example of the multipass cell.

“For the first time a gas sensing device has been created from the hybrid of an optical spectrometer and a high-resolution spectroscopy gas sensor. By employing infrared absorption spectroscopy in either the 2-5 microns and 8-12 microns wavelength windows where most of the harmful gasses have absorption signatures, the optical sensors can detect many molecules, simultaneously in real time,” said Oliveira.

The group expects to have a prototype off the ground in 2018.

A protoype of the multipass cell.
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