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Echodyne offers detect and avoid radar for small UAS

May 2, 2016  - By 1 Comments

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Echodyne today announced the development of MESA-DAA, an Airborne Detect and Avoid (DAA) radar for small to medium-sized unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

Echodyne made the announcement at AUVSI’s Xponential 2016 trade show and conference.

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 based on Echodyne’s patented Metamaterials Electronically Scanning Array (MESA), which offers 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, which Echodyne released today.

“Detect and avoid is the single biggest technical hurdle to opening up the National Airspace System to UAS,” said Jim Williams, former head of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) UAS Integration Office and current Principal at Dentons US, LLP and Echodyne advisor.

“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. MESA-DAA technology may well represent the key to safely opening up airspace for beyond visual line of sight operations.”

Detect and Avoid Requirement

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, 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 (such as range, azimuth and elevation) as well as its relative speed of approach (via Doppler).

“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,” said 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 April 7 “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 Specifications

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 3 kilometers, and scanning speed is expected to be 1 Hz for the entire field of view and as fast as 10 Hz for updating locations on previously detected objects. The field of view for a single unit is expected to be about 60 degree in azimuth (120 degrees total) and about 45 degrees in elevation. Multiple units can be combined if greater field of view is desired.

MESA-K-DEV

Echodyne also announced 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. The fully self-contained and packaged unit measures 22 by 7.5 by 2.5 centimeters and weighs 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 simpler meta-materials architecture. The net effect of this simplified architecture is lower cost, size, weight and power.

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Tracy Cozzens

About the Author:

Senior Editor Tracy Cozzens joined GPS World magazine in 2006. She also is editor of GPS World’s newsletters and the sister website Geospatial Solutions. She has worked in government, for non-profits, and in corporate communications, editing a variety of publications for audiences ranging from federal government contractors to teachers.

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