BELLEVUE, Wash., 10 May 2016. "Detect and avoid is the single biggest technical hurdle to opening up the National Airspace System to UAS," says Jim Williams, former head of the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) UAS Integration Office and current Principal at Dentons US LLP. Echodyne Corp. in Bellevue, Wash., have developed MESA-DAA, an airborne detect and avoid (DAA) radar for small to medium-sized unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) based on the company’s patented Metamaterials Electronically Scanning Array (MESA).
The small, lightweight, and low-power DAA radar will operate at K-band and be capable of rapidly scanning a broad field of view in azimuth and elevation at ranges out to 3 kilometers. MESA-DAA is designed to offer breakthrough cost, size, weight, and power (C-SWaP) improvements over traditional electronically scanning array technology. The MESA-DAA radar is scheduled for release at the end of 2016 and will be an evolution of the MESA-K-DEV radar.
"NASA, the FAA, industry, and academia have spent years studying the DAA problem and have determined radar is by far the best sensor, if not the only sensor, capable of providing the all-weather, long-range, and broad field of view scanning that is necessary for safe, highly reliable DAA” Williams continues. “MESA-DAA technology may well represent the key to safely opening up airspace for beyond visual line of sight operations."
One of the FAA's central aircraft operating rules is that pilots maintain vigilance so as to see and avoid other aircraft. To fulfill this requirement today, UAS need to remain within visual line of sight of their pilot. Although the regulations for UAS are still in development, there is widespread acceptance that for UAS 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. This DAA capability will need to detect both cooperative objects (those transmitting their position with a transponder) and non-cooperative objects (aircraft without transponders, birds, etc.).
Radar is the only sensor capable of reliably performing DAA in all weather conditions and at the ranges, broad fields of view and scanning speeds necessary for safe operation of UAS in the NAS. Radar is the only sensor that directly measures the position of an object (i.e., range, azimuth, elevation) as well as its relative speed of approach (via Doppler), officials say.
"We believe MESA-DAA will be a critical technology for safely opening up the National Airspace System to small UAS for beyond visual line of sight operations," explains Eben Frankenberg, founder and CEO of Echodyne. "Radar is the sensor of choice for DAA, but existing radar technology is too slow, too bulky, and too expensive to provide DAA radar capabilities on small UAS. The C-SWaP characteristics of MESA and our DAA radar are completely unparalleled and uniquely well suited for small UAS."
In the newly released FAA Aerospace Forecast, the FAA reports that it has already granted more than 4,000 Section 333 Exemptions for commercial UAS operations, clear evidence of the high demand for UAS applications. The FAA forecasts that sales of commercial small UAS could exceed 600,000 for 2016 and grow to 2.7 million by 2020, 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."
MESA-DAA is based largely on Echodyne's existing MESA-K-DEV radar. Package size and weight are expected to be less than MESA-K-DEV—especially if the unit is placed inside the UAS. Range is expected to be 3km, and scanning speed is expected to be 1Hz for the entire field of view and as fast as 10Hz for updating locations on previously detected objects. The field of view for a single unit is expected to be ±60° in azimuth (120° total) and ±45° in elevation. Multiple units can be combined if greater field of view is desired.
Echodyne also announces the availability of MESA-K-DEV, an ultra-low C-SWaP, fast electronically scanning radar based on its patented MESA. The radar operates at K-band and the fully self-contained and packaged unit measures a mere 22 x 7.5 x 2.5 cm and weighs only 820 grams.
Unlike conventional mechanical apertures that steer a radar beam using motorized gimbals, Echodyne's MESA requires no moving parts to steer its beam. And unlike Phased Array radars or Active Electronically Scanning Array radars that require complicated and expensive transmit/receive modules—including phase shifters, amplifiers, circulators, and low-noise amplifiers behind every single antenna element—MESA uses a vastly simpler metamaterials architecture. The net effect of this simplified architecture is dramatically lower cost, size, weight, and power.
Echodyne is reinventing the way the world uses radar by creating high-performance electronically scanning radars with ultra-low C-SWaP (cost, size, weight, and power). Echodyne's patented Metamaterial Electronically Scanning Array (MESA) offers disruptive capabilities for existing radar applications, and enables new categories of radars never before thought possible such as small, lightweight radars for UAVs, robots, autonomous vehicles, and security that work well even when environmental conditions are less than ideal (e.g. in rain, snow, fog, dust, darkness, etc.). Echodyne is a privately held company backed by Bill Gates, Madrona Venture Group, Vulcan Capital, Lux Capital, and The Kresge Foundation, among others.
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