Testing sensors in fog to make future transportation safer

November 23, 2021 8:00 am Published by

Sandia fog facility enables technology testing, foundational research

Self-flying drones and autonomous taxis that can safely operate in fog may sound futuristic, but new research at Sandia National Laboratories’ fog facility is bringing the future closer.

Fog can make travel by water, air and land hazardous when it becomes hard for both people and sensors to detect objects. Researchers at Sandia’s fog facility are addressing that challenge through new optical research in computational imaging and by partnering with NASA researchers working on Advanced Air Mobility, Teledyne FLIR and others to test sensors in customized fog that can be measured and repeatedly produced on demand.

“It’s important to improve optical sensors to better perceive and identify objects through fog to protect human life, prevent property damage and enable new technologies and capabilities,” said Jeremy Wright, optical engineer.

Built in 2014, Sandia’s fog chamber is 180 feet long, 10 feet tall and 10 feet wide. The chamber is lined with plastic sheeting to entrap the fog.

When the team begins a test, 64 nozzles hiss as they spray a custom mixture of water and salt. As the spray spreads, the humidity builds and thick fog forms. Soon, an observer inside won’t be able to see the walls, ceiling or entrance through the aerosol and people and objects a few feet away will be obscured or completely hidden.

Sandia’s researchers carefully measure properties of fog over time to understand how it forms and changes. By adjusting environmental parameters, the researchers can change the fog properties to better match naturally occurring fog.

“Our team can measure and completely characterize the fog that we produce at the facility, and we can repeatedly generate similar fog on different days,” said Andres Sanchez, chemical engineer. “Having consistent and measurable conditions is important when we’re testing how sensors perform in fog.”

Read the complete news release.

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