Rapid Deployment Sensing Platforms

Figure 1.  Preparing for launch

As part of a research project testing remote sensing applications, a team from the ISU Center for Transportation Research and Education (CTRE) team is exploring the use of tethered balloons as platforms for data collection.  Part of the research effort is learning about the many logistical issues involved with ballooning, such as weather, cost, equipment, planning, safety, etc.  Still images can be captured in color, black and white, and near infrared, and video imagery can be captured in digital and film formats. The research team also plans to explore the use of thermal imagery.

Figure 2.  Launching the helikite

To learn how to use balloons as a potentially viable platform for transportation data collection and surveillance, CTRE partnered with the ISU HABET Team (High Altitude Balloon Experiments in Technology). HABET is part of the Spacecraft Systems and Operations Lab (SSOL) of NASA’s Iowa Space Grant Consortium.

There are several advantages to using balloons for data collection.  One of the most significant advantages is that balloons could be deployed quickly and data collected immediately.  For instance, balloons could be sent up to record traffic operations during a special event.  Balloons may also be able to collect data that traffic-monitoring cameras cannot.  Most traffic monitoring cameras are stationary and mounted in specific locations.  They are limited in the height at which they can be located, by practical constraints.  Tethered balloons can be moved and located easily, providing a more flexible method to collect data.  Additionally they can be launched and realistically used up to several thousand feet so data can be collected over a wide area.

Potential uses of the balloons include observing driver behavior such as merging behavior on freeway ramps and car-following, evaluating safety problem areas, supporting infrastructure data collection, and monitoring locations such as bridges, for critical infrastructure protection.

Figure 3. Balloon shot from 1000 ft

Additional resources