Vigilant Aerospace Systems, Inc., a provider of multi-sensor detect-and-avoid safety systems for uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS) and advanced air mobility (AAM), announced that it has been awarded a contract by the US Air Force to develop a detect-and-avoid system for the Air Force’s new long-endurance drone.
According to the published project description, the objective of the project is to “integrate a mature detect and avoid capability on an existing long-endurance, Group V UAS platform for increased aircraft and pilot-in-the-loop operational awareness that leverages new and evolving C-SWaP sensors and sensor fusion software.”
“We are very excited to have been selected to develop this crucial technology for the US Air Force. We know that integration of uncrewed aircraft into the US national airspace and other civil airspace systems is critical to the advancement of the industry for both military and civilian use and that there can be no autonomy without autonomous safety and automatic collision avoidance,” said Kraettli L. Epperson, CEO of Vigilant Aerospace.
The project is sponsored by the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) and is an SBIR Phase II project through the SBIR program. The program seeks to bring dual-use technologies, which can help both civilian and military users, into the military, with a focus on high-impact, near-term implementations.
Utilizing Dual-Use Technologies for Military Advancement
FlightHorizon is detect-and-avoid and airspace management software that fuses data from aircraft transponders, radar, drone autopilots and live FAA data to create a single picture of the airspace around a drone. The software displays air traffic, predicts trajectories and provides avoidance commands to the remote pilot or to an autopilot. The system can be used on the ground or onboard the UAS and can be configured for any size of aircraft.
The software is based on two licensed NASA patents and the company has completed contracts with NASA, the FAA and a project with the USAF’s 49th Operating Group’s MQ-9 Reaper fleet to track training flights. It is designed to meet industry technical standards and to help UAS operators to fly beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS).
Industry Synergies and Leveraging Prior Experience
The new Air Force project leverages important prior research and development by the company in solving the automatic self-separation and collision avoidance problem for drones.
“We are especially excited about the intersection of this new project with our existing work for advanced air mobility companies developing safety systems for air taxis and larger cargo drones. All of these operations have similar needs for safety and integration and they are turning to Vigilant for solutions. We are able to bring existing technology, experience, patents, algorithms and flight tests to bear on solving the problems that they have in common, ” said Epperson.
To evaluate sensors and algorithms and to establish standards-compliance and risk ratios for industry clients, the company has completed hundreds of hours of flight tests with the system and hundreds of thousands of simulated aircraft encounters inside the software’s built-in simulation engine.
“Standards-compliant detect and avoid is a complex threshold problem for the entire industry. Provision of automatic collision avoidance for a new generation of uncrewed aircraft systems is a critical technical gap that we are striving to fill. With both onboard and ground-based versions of our software, we can utilize new or existing infrastructure and UTM networks and provide multi-layered safety. We believe we have the industry’s most comprehensive approach to UAS safety and are grateful that the Air Force has engaged our expertise and technology for their next-generation aircraft,” said Epperson.
About the Project
According to the solicitation, the ultimate goal of the project is to “Integrate mature detect and avoid capability on an existing long-endurance, Group V UAS platform, and demonstrate the utility in several Air Force need areas for missions that are at different stages of conceptual maturity, including where conceptual development has not yet begun. Provide intermediate products to be assessed by planning teams, summarizing information that captures sensitivity of mission-level outcomes, including schedule, cost and risk, to key architecture and implementation decisions. Carry at least one flight test assessment of complete system integrated on UAS against manned aircraft intruder.”
Read the full SBIR solicitation here: Detect-and-Avoid on Long-Endurance Platform | SBIR.gov
According to the project description, “While progress in this area has focused on future civil and commercial airspace navigation, military applications support the safe transit of military UAS’s through the National Airspace (NAS) and over international waters without concern of collision with other aircraft.”
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is the primary scientific research and development center for the Department of the Air Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development, and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space, and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 11,000 across nine technology areas and 40 other operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development. For more information, visit: www.afresearchlab.com.
The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs are highly competitive programs that encourage domestic small businesses to engage in Federal Research/Research and Development (R/R&D) with the potential for commercialization. Through a competitive awards-based program, SBIR and STTR enable small businesses to explore their technological potential and provide the incentive to profit from its commercialization. By including qualified small businesses in the nation’s R&D arena, high-tech innovation is stimulated, and the United States gains entrepreneurial spirit as it meets its specific research and development needs. For more information, visit www.sbir.gov