Plextek Designing Micro Radars and Sensors for Drones to Carry Heavy Weights

UK engineering and design consultancy Plextek has partnered with unmanned aerial systems (UAS) specialist, Griff Aviation, to put micro radars and sensors on its innovative heavy lifting drones, enabling them to navigate in complex environments. Griff is developing UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) designed to carry payloads up to 250kg for a wide range of applications including moving building equipment and materials across harsh terrains including mountainous and forested landscapes.

The Plextek electronic-scanning (e-scan) micro radar and advanced software have been optimized for use on drones and other UAVs. Operating in the 60 GHz mm-wave band, the e-scan radar is capable of detecting hazards such as power lines from up to 60 meters as well as buildings, bridges, vegetation, and other objects both in front of and beneath the drone, with good range out to 300m and angular resolution. It also provides day and night, all-weather sensing. And because the 60 GHz band is license-exempt in most territories, the micro radar can be freely used and is unlikely to cause interference with other equipment onboard the UAV or in close proximity.

The Plextek micro radar will enable the drones to fly at a pre-defined height when integrated with the Micro Pilot flight controller. A software shim layer converts the distance and azimuth information into MAVLINK commands used by the flight controller to navigate with speed and safety.

Plextek is currently working with Griff Aviation with on-site trials in Norway ahead of putting the drones through their paces with a leading energy provider in Japan and a power line company in Australia. Plextek has established internationally recognized expertise in mm-wave radar over the last six years and is now applying its technology for the ‘sense and avoid’ navigation of drones and other UAVs. The Griff Aviation project is particularly challenging and exciting as up until now, most drones have been used for lightweight payloads and heavy-lift drones require very precise and reliable flight control.