Radar: ROBIN Lite and Self-dependancing


ROBIN Lite and Robin Systems becoming an independent entity



Immediately after the millennium, plans are being developed to construct some seventy offshore wind farms in the Dutch part of the North Sea by 2020. These wind farms can be 4 by 4 kilometres in size; jointly they may cover a large part of the Dutch North Sea territory. The height of the power windmills reaches up to 150 metres. This presents a danger for the birds passing by.

Power windmills at sea. Photo: A. Borst (TNO)
Power windmills at sea.
Photo: A. Borst (TNO)

In 2004, a knowledge consortium called We@Sea was established by the stakeholders in the Netherlands of offshore wind energy production to determine the effects of power wind farms on birds. One of the participants is Bureau Waardenburg (BuWa) from Culemborg. At that time they experienced problems with the automated American measuring system that uses two ship radars. Due to the reflections of waves -sea clutter-, BuWa is unable to create a reliable data set. For that reason, they approached TNO to develop a bird detection radar that would be sea-clutter resistant. Such a bird detection radar should be delivered by the end of 2006. That system becomes the ROBIN Lite system.

ROBIN Lite consists of two parts:

  • Firstly, a horizontally rotating radar records all bird positions and flight movements in a diameter of 20 kilometres around the radar. In principle, this radar can be any available maritime radar.
  • Secondly, a vertical radar with a few new options. This vertical radar consists of two parallel antennas:
    • An antenna that does not transmit a pulse but a continuous radar signal.
    • A coupled second antenna that continuously detects all radar reflections.

The vertical radar uses ‘solid-state’ integrated circuits. Therefore, the radar is less maintenance-sensitive. This radar can look 4 to 8 kilometres away and can measure the height. Because the radar emits little power – comparable to the transmitted energy from a mobile phone – it can have a fixed position. One can even measure the wing beat of birds with this radar.

With the combined system it is possible to detect which birds are flying dangerously close to which power windmills. Those windmills that pose a danger to birds can be stopped quickly.

ROBIN Lite schematically Slide: A. Borst (TNO)
ROBIN Lite schematically
Slide: A. Borst (TNO)

Nevertheless, it is still a challenge given the available computing capacity to use a promising filtering technology in real-time. This remains a research challenge. Graduate students of TU Delft are contracted to create improvements. In this way, the tracking process has been improved as well.
The solution for BuWa is a single-ship radar, which is turned for acquiring altitude information.

At the Woensdrecht airbase, a ROBIN Lite radar was operated for several years as part of the ESA Flysafe project which used satellite communication via the European Space Agency ESA. The 2006 ESA project was part of the ESA space program and focused on improving flight safety across national borders. The project result should be an integrated automatic bird warning system.


ROBIN Radar Systems BV

On June 23, 2010, ROBIN Radar Systems BV was established as a TNO spin-off. Initially, the ROBIN Radar Systems team remains housed within TNO Waalsdorp. In the meantime, rapid developments are being made with the further development of the world’s first purpose-built bird radar: no longer an ordinary ship radar, but a Frequency-modulated continuous-wave radar (FMCW) that can turn in all directions and can track targets continuously. The prototype is placed on TNO’s roof and the computers are mounted in water and shock-resistant crates.

A ROBIN 2D-mobile configuration is created. It is a system that has been built in a van that has been bought from TNO. This system shows, despite sea clutter, flying birds up to 20 kilometres away.

Measuring van
Measuring van ROBIN Radar Systems

Interest in ROBIN systems grew as a result of the incident with Royal Air Maroc flight AT 0685 on June 6, 2010. At the start at Schiphol (Amsterdam airport), the Boeing 737 collides with a group of Canadian geese. It takes, however, until 6 September 2012 before Schiphol signs a contract with ROBIN Radar Systems. A twelve-month trial period starts at the Polderbaan runway of Schiphol.

During that period, more and more orders were received by ROBIN Radar Systems. In March 2012, ROBIN Radar Systems moved from the TNO location Waalsdorp to its own accommodations in The Hague. TNO, meanwhile, remains one of ROBIN’s strategic suppliers with their research and development capacity.

More information about the start period of ROBIN Radar Systems can be read in the extensive book [in Dutch] “KIEVIT wordt ROBIN en vliegt uit“.