U.S. Air Force funds adaptation of automotive radar for autonomous “flying cars”
Jan 8th, 2021
CARLSBAD, Calif., – Metawave Corporation has been awarded a prime, Phase One contract by the United States Air Force (USAF) to provide a high-precision, all-weather sensing solution for electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing (eVTOL) aircraft. The initial Metawave study outlined by the contract will identify modifications needed for the company’s existing “SPEKTRA” radar for aerial operations, all of which will be applied to development of next-generation eVTOL air-vehicles.
The USAF’s AGILITY PRIME initiative seeks to advance the development of applicable technologies for operational, human-rated eVTOL aircraft by 2023. In addition to traditional aerospace companies, the Air Force is directly engaging with innovative new sector entrants, such as Metawave, that have demonstrated their ability to provide “enabling technologies” that will advance the requirements of AGILITY PRIME.
Metawave’s SPEKTRA is a compact analog antenna system that has provided the automotive industry with high-precision radar capabilities accurate out to 330 meters. The current long-range high-resolution SPEKTRA analog radar design enables critical features for next-generation cars, including adaptive cruise control, lane change assist, and automated emergency braking. Based on the level of precision required to safely deliver these features in all-weather conditions, SPEKTRA is an excellent candidate for a rugged sensor system for future eVTOL aircraft, and will enable precision eVTOL navigation and obstacle avoidance.
As part of this Phase One effort, Metawave, in partnership with the Arizona State University Center for Wireless Information Systems and Computational Architectures, will modify the SPEKTRA radar for longer ranges and navigation in three-dimensional (3D) space.
The AGILITY PRIME initiative was launched by AFWERX, the new rapid innovation branch of the Air Force. AFWERX is devoted to quickly fielding emerging commercial technologies for a variety of future-facing applications. AFWERX’s eVTOL project is its biggest program to date, awarding $38M thus far to more than 250 selected proposals for aircraft and flight-enabling technologies.
The Washington, DC-based start-up company Rhea Space Activity (RSA) worked with Metawave to develop the SPEKTRA concept as a parallel application for its well-established commercial automotive uses. RSA identified SPEKTRA’s two-dimensional (2D) solid-state beamsteering and all-weather operational capabilities as uniquely suited to solve several problems related to providing eVTOL aircraft with reliable situational awareness.
With SPEKTRA nearing commercial operation, RSA suggested AGILITY PRIME as a good fit for further development of the radar system’s capabilities.
Dr. Hans C. Mumm