Vigilant Aerospace Systems, Inc., has been contracted by the US Air Force to develop a detect-and-avoid system for the Air Force’s new long-endurance drone.
Vigilant Aerospace is a provider of multi-sensor detect-and-avoid safety systems for uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS) and advanced air mobility (AAM).
The published project description states 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.”
The full SBIR solicitation can be found on Vigilant Aerospace’s website.
The project is sponsored by the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) and is an SBIR Phase II project. 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.
FlightHorizon is Vigilant Aerospace’s detect-and-avoid and airspace management software, fusing 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.
FlightHorizon 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).
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.
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.
“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.
“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,” added Epperson.