Collision Avoidance For Drones


From the one-more-thing-to-avoid-while-flying department — final testing starts Wednesday on a radar system that could have us sharing the skies with pilotless aircraft. Researchers at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in California have been working on the Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology (ERAST) program for four years. The system gives remotely piloted aircraft the ability to detect “incoming obstacles” at a range of six nautical miles, theoretically giving the drone time to signal its ground-bound pilot, by line of sight or satellite relay, to take corrective action. The researchers are the first to admit that flinging a pilotless airplane into the nation’s airspace is a risky venture. “Part of the technical stumbling blocks of unmanned aerial vehicles is the inability to equal the level of safety of a manned plane,” Glenn Hamilton, the project manager, told Without the collision-avoidance capability, he predicted the FAA would severely restrict where and when remote control aircraft can fly. The heart of the system is a lightweight radar originally developed by a Canadian company, Amphitech International, to help helicopter pilots avoid power lines. It’s been mounted on Proteus, the Scaled Composites-designed high-altitude, long-endurance drone.