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Is Low SWaP-C Radar the Key to Urban Air Mobility?

radar distance sensors
Inras Radar chipset (Image Courtesy Inras)

Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have developed a methodology they believe can extend the range of low-cost radar chipsets that will make them economically viable in VTOL.

The development simultaneously achieves parity with a human pilot’s ability to detect and avoid (DAA) obstacles, making autonomous urban air mobility (UAM), as currently envisioned by the community-at-large, a reality.

In the paper, Low SWaP-C Radar for Urban Air Mobility, the scientists, William A. Lies and Lakshay Narula from the school’s Electrical and Computer Engineering department, and Peter A. Iannucci and Todd E. Humphreys from the Aerospace Engineering & Engineering Mechanics department, deployed a fused camera-radar solution “that exploits the camera’s excellent, angular resolution to guide radar signal processing so that signals arrive from a camera-detected target are combined constructively.”

Hence the “size, weight, and power – cost” (SWaP-C). It’s that guided processing that significantly extends the range of low SWaP-C radar chipsets, which will make them valuable in DAA. Using this method, VTOLs would be detectable to each other at a range of 1 kilometer (about ½ mile).

Using weak-signal correlation techniques and long measurement intervals, the range of current low SWaP-C radar chipsets could be successfully extended.

The scientists used an Inras Radar Log development kit to test their work. They believe this demonstrates that a typically sized VTOL would be detected if a full-scale system were deployed.

It is that extended range, precisely, that will enable VTOLs and the UAM industry itself to take off.

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Dave Clarke

Dave Clarke is a California-based writer who is fascinated by the way technology changes our lives.