Echodyne Demonstrates Detect and Avoid Radar on a Small Drone

Echodyne Corp has announced the successful testing of airborne Detect and Avoid (DAA) radar on a small Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (sUAV). The radar was mounted on a small commercial drone which flew multiple missions below 400 feet over a period of several days. The size of the drone, the range it covered and its payload were similar to what is needed for package delivery, infrastructure inspection, and agricultural monitoring.

Echodyne’s detect and avoid technology enables a drone to “see” moving and stationary obstacles using “radar vision” as the drone flies through the airspace beyond line of sight of its operator. The radar tests were conducted with an undisclosed partner using Echodyne’s developer kit radar with its patented Metamaterial Electronically Scanning Array (MESA). Their radar is based on metamaterials technology which enables the radar to deliver high-performance electronic scanning in a smaller, lighter and less expensive form factor than has been previously thought possible.

During the testing missions, the radar successfully scanned a broad field of view in both azimuth and elevation (up to 120° x 80°) detecting and tracking multiple types of aircraft including a small UAV, a Beechcraft Bonanza, and an ultralight aircraft flying through its airspace. The radar provided a 4D data cube of radar returns accurately depicting ground vegetation, barbed wire fences and other stationary obstacles, as well as the flight paths of the tracked aircraft. The tests used Echodyne’s developer kit radar which is a precursor to its MESA-DAA radar, which will detect and track Cessna-sized objects up to 3km away and small drones up to 750 m away. MESA-DAA will be available to commercial customers in early 2017.

Phased array radars have long been the pinnacle of radar technology, but they remain too costly for commercial use. MESA (Multi-role ElectronicallyScanned Array) operates very similarly to a phased array, but at a tiny fraction of the cost, size, weight and power, making it ideal for all kinds of high-performance commercial applications including radar vision for drones and cars.

In the Federal Aviation Administration’s recently issued rules for small UAV operation, all UAVs need to remain within visual line of sight of their pilot, who is responsible for avoiding collisions. There is widespread acceptance that for UAVs to fly beyond line of sight of their operator, they will need DAA sensors and systems that safely replace the pilot’s “see and avoid” capability. And just like a pilot in a manned aircraft, any DAA system will need to detect and avoid both cooperative objects (e.g. those transmitting their position with a transponder) and non-cooperative objects (e.g. aircraft without transponders, birds, etc.), and do so reliably in a diverse range of weather conditions.

In its Aerospace Forecast, the FAA points out the importance of DAA to the long-term success of the UAS industry, noting that the overall demand for commercial UAS will soar once regulations more easily enable beyond visual line of sight operations and operations of multiple unmanned aircraft by a single pilot.