The United States Air Force (USAF) has selected Metawave Corporation to provide next-generation radar solutions for eVTOL aircraft. 

SPEKTRA can detect obstacles and road features up to 300m ahead of a vehicle. Metawave seeks to add 3D capability and increased range for eVTOL platforms.

The contract was awarded as a part of the USAF’s Agility Prime initiative, which seeks to advance the development of enabling technologies required to realize eVTOL platforms by 2023. The initial phase of the study will identify and improve upon the company’s current radar offering, SPEKTRA, for aerial operations. 

SPEKTRA is a compact analog antenna system which has been successful in the automotive industry in providing a high precision/resolution radar platform out to 330 meters (1082 ft). The platform currently is used for functions including cruise control, lane change assist, and automated emergency braking. Metawave can upgrade SPEKTRA to enable precision eVTOL navigation and obstacle avoidance. 

In the first phase, Metawave will parter with Arizona State University to modify SPEKTRA for longer ranges and navigation in three-dimensional space. 

“Both the automotive and eVTOL markets require the highest level of precision delivered by SPEKTRA,” Achour said. “For both applications, the ability to reliably distinguish between several objects close together in all weather and light conditions is an important capability for all phases of transport, including flight. The most significant difference is the operational range of the radar.”

Following the completion of Phase One, Metawave will apply for a Phase Two contract to bring operational radar hardware to USAF personnel. The Phase Two effort will include a series of field tests of the proposed design array under a variety of varied situations and environments.

Why it matters: The USAF has already awarded $38M to several contractors building the infrastructure and technologies required to realize the future of aerial mobility. Metawave’s work in developing radar solutions for the automotive industry can be complemented on eVTOL platforms with upgrades in range and 3D capability. The ability to use radar as a means of close-range navigation and obstacle avoidance will also be key in enabling autonomous operations of eVTOL air-vehicles. Expect similar studies and investments to surface as aerial mobility moves closer to reality.

Posted by Ross Piscoran

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