Honeywell Smart Drone Radar Avoids Collision in High Stakes Test.
- – Key technology will enable the adoption of self-flying aircraft, drones, and advanced air mobility vehicles.
- – Honeywell’s radar determined the best path and autonomously swerved around an intruder drone that did not have a transponder.
PHOENIX, Feb. 2, 20 – In a series of tests critical to the future of pilotless flight, a drone operated by Honeywell’s (NASDAQ: HON) IntuVue RDR-84K radar system won a high-stakes game of dodgeball, repeatedly swerving around intruding aircraft.
The tests, which were recently done in the Phoenix area, revealed that the radar can not only detect airborne activity but also decide on a course of action on its own. Using its internal CPU, the radar can take over navigation and pilot an aircraft to safety.
“We set up the ultimate game of ‘chicken,’ but the RDR-84K simply wouldn’t let these aircraft get into danger,” said Sapan Shah, product manager, Advanced Air Mobility, Honeywell Aerospace. “This is a leap forward in safety that could have far-ranging impacts across aviation.”
Unexpected objects must be avoided by autonomous drones and other aircraft that fly beyond the operator’s visual line of sight (BVLOS). This detect-and-avoid capacity, on the other hand, is incredibly difficult to achieve in the air. Because of the high speeds involved, radars must have a large range and be able to distinguish aerial activity from ground clutter, which includes moving autos. To make sense of radar echoes, they also need precise location information.
On the ground, this is challenging; in the air, it’s considerably more difficult. Pilots and even massive air traffic control radars rely on cooperating aircraft to beam out their whereabouts using onboard transponders as a means of compensation. Noncooperating traffic refers to objects that lack transponders, such as hobby drones, kites, birds, and aircraft with faulty transponders.
During rigorous testing, while mounted on helicopters and drones, the RDR-84K, which is the size of a paperback book, has shown its capacity to detect non-cooperative traffic. However, the recent tests were the first time it completed the avoidance function without the assistance of humans.
Honeywell engineers launched two quadcopter drones directly at each other 300 feet above the ground at a test site in the desert with both drones on autopilot.
Watch the video here.
During repeated flights, the drone equipped with the RDR-84K detected and evaluated the non-cooperative “intruder” drone. Then, based on winds and other conditions, it computed an avoidance maneuver and took over navigation, flying left, right, up, down, or stopping mid-flight.
The radar released control of the drone when the threat of a collision had passed, and the autopilot piloted it back to its original trajectory.
“This was all automatic,” said Larry Surace, lead systems engineer for the RDR-84K, Honeywell Aerospace. “The radar recognized the danger, decided on a course of action, flew to safety, and then made sure the danger had passed — all without input from anyone on the ground.”
The crew then put the RDR-84K through its paces, testing the radar’s peripheral vision and high angular detection capabilities by approaching from below to blend into ground clutter and from offset angles. In some flights, the team told the radar to wait longer before intervening, driving it to be more aggressive.
“The radar handled everything we threw at it,” Surace said. “It saw the danger immediately and successfully executed multiple avoidance maneuvers.”
The RDR-84K is a little aircraft radar, weighing less than two pounds. It has a face that is only 8 inches wide, 4 inches high, and 1 inch deep. Its inbuilt processor determines avoidance paths, which eliminates the need for a separate computer.
Despite its modest size, the radar can detect targets from a distance of 3 kilometers. To improve accuracy and remove ground clutter, it employs monopulse technology, which is a series of overlapping beams. The radar has no moving parts because it guides its beams electronically.
The RDR-84K can map topography and give alternate navigation in the event of GPS failure, in addition to detecting traffic. During landing, it can also be used as a radar altimeter.
Along with the small UAV satellite communications transmitter, hydrogen fuel cells, and inertial navigation systems, Honeywell’s Beyond-Visual-Line-of-Sight portfolio of technologies includes the RDR-84K. The goal of these technologies is to increase the range of unmanned aircraft.
Learn about Honeywell’s other technologies for both large and small uncrewed aerial systems here.
Honeywell Aerospace products and services are found on virtually every commercial, defense and space aircraft. The Aerospace business unit builds aircraft engines, cockpit and cabin electronics, wireless connectivity systems, mechanical components, and more. Its hardware and software solutions create more fuel-efficient aircraft, more direct and on-time flights, and safer skies and airports. For more information, visit www.honeywell.com