Prototype miniaturized radar for small UAS undergoes testing

By Patrick C. Miller | October 13, 2016

While manned aircraft have used onboard radar for decades, the size and cost of the equipment has limited its use primarily to large, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

Lei Shi, founder of UAVradars in Lawrence, Kansas, is trying to change this. His company—a spinoff from research conducted for NASA at the University of Kansas—has developed a miniaturized radar for use on small, fixed-wing UAS which Shi expects will help with their integration into the national airspace.

“Traditionally, radar systems have been large, bulky and they consume a great deal of power,” Shi explained. “With UAS, it’s a tricky balance to maintain, but we’ve accomplished it with our patent-pending technology. Keeping the cost down is another issue we’ve worked on.”

UAVradars is in the process of testing a prototype UAS with the capability to sense and avoid tall structures, general aviation aircraft and other non-cooperative aircraft. Originally begun as a research project, the startup company is now being funded a NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II project.  

Shi believes the radar would be useful on the type of UAS Amazon Prime Air is testing for its package delivery program. The advantages the technology offers include standalone operation, the ability to detect a wide array of targets, day and night all-weather operation, wide area coverage and the ability to detect non-cooperative hazards.

While the radar is currently intended for small UAS, Shi said they are targeting it for drones capable of carrying a 10-pound payload. There are also plans to automate the radar system to provide real-time data and analytics to end users. Shi envisions the radar equipping an autonomous UAS that flies itself in an area in which the user programs it to fly, making it useful for commercial applications requiring longer endurance.

“Our objective is to do something truly remarkable like precision ag or search and rescue where the UAS has to carry some type of payload,” he said. “We want to get those types of UAS off the ground and flying in the same airspace as general aviation aircraft.”


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