Vigilant Aerospace CEO, Kraettli L. Epperson, was featured in the recent UAS Magazine podcast ahead of his upcoming appearance at the upcoming UAS Summit & Expo in Grand Forks, ND on October 10. He will be speaking at 10:40am discussing the future of UAS collision avoidance and airspace management on the panel titled “Clearing the Air: Exploring Detect-and-Avoid Solutions that Mitigate Dangers in the Airspace.”
For more about the conference or to register, click here: UAS Summit & Expo (bbiconferences.com)
Speaking with UAS Magazine editor Danielle Pierkarski, Epperson highlighted several announcements being made by the company and talked about the company’s airspace management and detect-and-avoid system, FlightHorizon.
Listen to the podcast here or read the full transcript below:
Transcript of the podcast:
Danielle: Hello and welcome back to the UAS Magazine podcast. I’m your host Danielle Piekarski, and today I am joined by Kraettli Epperson CEO of vigilant Aerospace Systems. Kraettli, thank you for joining us today and welcome to the podcast.
Kraettli: Thank you Danielle we’re happy to be here.
Danielle: We are happy to have you here. So Kraettli will be presenting at the 2023 UAS Summit and Expo taking place October 10th and 11th in Grand Forks, North Dakota; his presentation will be held on Tuesday October 10th at 10:40 a.m. and is titled “Developing DAA for large and Military UAS.” Kraettli, could you share some more information about Vigilant Aerospace Systems and what topics you’ll be covering during your presentation?
Kraettli: Yeah I’d be happy to. So Vigilant Aerospace is the leading provider of standards compliant detect and avoid and airspace management systems for UAS, and that includes both small and large UAS, and so that’s what we focus on. We have a vision for a world in which you’ve got autonomous drones that can do their job safely and routinely especially mid-sized and larger drones, and we feel that that absolutely requires an automatic deconfliction system so that both the software and the pilot are aware of other air traffic and have an automatic deconfliction process to reach an autonomous world. You just have to have that and so that’s what we’re focused on. We really are focused on filling this important industry gap to have integrated multi-sensor detect and avoid systems. We have both onboard and ground-based and hybrid systems, and we integrate with a variety of sensors.
Danielle: All right; thank you for that description. In what ways have advanced collision avoidance and airspace management systems developed in the recent years, and what further developments should we be focusing on in the future both commercially and in military applications?
Kraettli: Sure that’s a great question. So there are three or four areas where there’s been development over the last several years that’s been very impactful for the industry, and we feel as these developments go forward they’re really going to enable the use of long-range large UAS for both civilian and military use. These include the development of new industry technical standards; so we like to think about the ASTM F3442 standard. I’m on that working group and have been very involved in that for years now, and there are new versions of that standard coming out, so I encourage everyone to watch for that. The RTCA DO-365B and C standards are really important for detect and avoid systems for large UAS and military UAS that fly in civilian airspace so standards are really high on that list, and those standards get referenced by civilian aviation authorities; so they get referenced by the FAA in new waivers and now in exemptions, which we’ve seen several of over the past few weeks, which are really exciting, and then ultimately they are expected to be referenced in new rules.
I had the privilege of serving on the FAA’s Beyond Visual Line of Sight Aviation Rulemaking Committee (BVLOS ARC) that put together a full report on allowing smaller civilian commercial UAS to fly beyond visual line of sight with a variety of industry recommendations, and the FAA is referencing standards in the things that are being written around the likely rules, so we’re really excited about that. The other thing of course is that there are developments and sensors; so we have a variety of sensor partners. We use radars, we use transponders and transponder receivers, we use data from UTM systems and provide data and provide a UTM USS system, and we then use FAA air traffic data; and we mix all that together into our system to create a fully integrated picture. As those sensors develop and become smaller and more powerful and have better range, better liability, that has a big impact on our ability to provide these systems, particularly the onboard system. That’s incredibly exciting and just the maturity of data availability and the ability to Interchange data is really improving you know by the month right now and then onboard processing power and edge processing for a variety of sensors and systems is advancing, and that has an impact. Then finally algorithms and the acceptance of algorithms and ultimately AI classifiers for use of sensor data before maybe it gets to the collision avoidance where you’re actually using the sensor to intelligently and autonomously be able to classify what you’re looking at are four big areas that we’ve seen a lot of advancement that are changing the industry rapidly. Yeah there is certainly a lot going on in a very exciting time to be in the industry.
Danielle: So how would you say that these developments affect the solutions that Vigilant provides?
Kraettli: We provide systems that are for small UAS; they typically are ground-based, and so they’re going to have what’s called cooperative traffic surveillance. So you’re receiving signals from transponders and the ability to do that has improved and become less expensive and more reliable over time. We also have what are called non-cooperative sensors so that’ll usually be a radar and sometimes be some other sensors, and so those are becoming more prolific, less expensive, much improved in terms of range, and so those things allow us to provide increasingly capable portable, in many cases, solutions for our end users; those are mostly focused on small UAS, which are used by both commercial civilian markets and military, but for onboard systems for larger UAS, all those changes are having a big impact and that we can go in and develop a system around a particular light operation, a particular safety case, a particular use case and have much greater certainty about what needs to be provided for different types of flights and different types of aircraft and then use the appropriate sensors and the appropriate standards and algorithms to deliver. That’s what we focus on every day. if you’d like I can tell you about a few projects that we’re working on that will be part of my presentation at the UAS Summit and Expo?
Danielle: Yes please; go for it.
Kraettli: So one of the things that we’ll be highlighting is that we were recently awarded a contract from the U.S Air Force to develop the new onboard collision avoidance and air traffic awareness system for their new next generation long-range drone. We’re really excited about that project; it provides an opportunity to move this technology forward pretty dramatically and provides an opportunity to allow the Air Force to use the cutting-edge work that we’ve been doing across the board, and that’s a great project that we’ll be talking about more I’m sure. It is a dual use project so they’re using technologies that we have developed for the commercial market in that new next generation long-range drone. We were also recently awarded a contract from a major international auto manufacturer to do the r&d to develop the onboard safety system for their new air taxi. We have previously done projects and have one with Northern Plains UAS test site in Grand Forks in which we provide FlightHorizon for their research initiatives in and around Grand Forks including realizing and displaying the data from multiple Radars that they use for air traffic research in Grand Forks. That’s been a great project for us, and it’s an opportunity to really utilize our system with lots of data from you know real airspaces and real flights and real operations that are going on. We’ve previously done work like this directly for the FAA at the Alaska UAS test site where we flew the first multi-sensor onboard detect and avoid system beyond visual line of sight along the trans-Alaska pipeline, and that really paved the way for a lot of these other projects and a lot of the advancements that are taking place both in our technology and in the industry.
Danielle: Very interesting. Well congrats to you and the Vigilant team. It sounds like you have some really cool projects on the horizon these days.
Kraettli: Thank you. Yeah busy for sure.
Danielle: So what are the key factors in your opinion that will contribute to successful development and widespread adoption of these detect and avoid technologies within the industry?
Kraettli: Key factors: You know policy is at the top of everybody’s list as it should be, and of course that particularly impacts the commercial civilian market; it really has an impact nationwide and worldwide across all UAS operations. As the FAA evaluates solutions that that they feel meet the safety need for the U.S national aerospace system that has a worldwide impact. We’re really excited about developments in the regulations, and we continue to participate. You know every opportunity we get to push that forward the availability of programs and groups that want to do beyond visual line of sight flight is really important. I know we have a lot of rirst responders right now from fire departments and sheriff’s departments and other groups that are doing really critical work in both urban, suburban, and rural areas that are beginning to push the boundaries, and so we’re helping several of those groups. We’re looking forward over the next 12 months to see those become live operations that allow a drone to go help with the search and rescue mission or to go observe a dam that may be threatening a community, a wildfire that may be threatening a community and so those types of programs and the people who develop them and support them and that’s a lot of work. We really respect that work, and we know that’s a real key factor in advancing the industry because those are early adopters. Then you know increasing availability and lower cost of a lot of the hardware that makes all of this possible is critical to us. We do software only, and we partner with hardware companies, and so we are always excited when a new product is available that we feel moves the needle on what we’re trying to provide to the user in the marketplace.
Danielle: Absolutely. Well thank you for that answer. We’re coming near the end of our time here, but I did have one more question for you regarding the UAS Summit; I was curious what topics that you are looking forward to hearing at this year’s show.
Kraettli: The UAS Summit and Expo is really a highlight of our year here at Vigilant Aerospace. We look forward to seeing all of the presentations on new platforms for example UAS that are being developed, presentations on new sensors. We have a lot of friends and partners that’ll be there from Pierce Aerospace with remote ID sensors to some of the radar sensors and other providers. So we always look forward to those presentations and those panel discussions in which we learn a lot of information faster than we could learn in any other way by going to the UAS Summit, and so we’ll focus on that. We also are excited to hear about new programs and announcements of progress and programs and impact on policy mostly that’s of course FAA and federal policy, but sometimes it’s also local and state programs that make announcements and that’s a fantastic opportunity to hear about that at the summit.
Danielle: So we’ll be listening keenly for all of those things for sure. Again today we are joined by Kraettli Epperson CEO of Vigilant Aerospace Systems. Kraettli, thank you again for joining us today.
Kraettli: It was a pleasure to talk with you Danielle; we really appreciate it and look forward to seeing you at the UAS Summit and Expo.
Danielle: Yes same to you and for our listeners, if you would like to learn more from Kraettli register for the 2023 UAS Summit and Expo, and make sure to tune into his presentation at 10:40 a.m. on Tuesday October 10th. Thank you for tuning in; we hope that you enjoyed this podcast and look forward to next time until then.