DARPA has announced its first successful flight using a new system that aims to help aircraft sense and avoid other aircraft. The research effort is being conducted through DARPA’s Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) program. During its flight test, an unmanned air vehicle (UAV) used the technology to detect and track in real time a Cessna 172G aircraft approaching from various locations.
“This successful flight test is a step toward adding external perception to ALIAS’ toolkit for advancing in-flight automation,” Dan Patt, program manager in the Tactical Technology Office at DARPA. “What pilot wouldn't want to set a box on their dashboard that would provide an additional pair of eyes to alert of potential collisions? This [sense-and-avoid] system has the potential to enable a wide range of manned and unmanned systems to safely integrate into an increasingly populated and complex airspace.”
The sense-and-avoid (SAA) system uses a single optical camera for detection and tracking, as well as a range of features designed to assess the likelihood of encountering an oncoming aircraft, and collision-avoidance capabilities to determine the safest path. The research effort is part of a larger initiative to create a low-cost and easily installed detection system that can determine the best avoidance strategy. DARPA has been working on this capability for more than two years, and is planning another phase of the research effort, which will include joint funding from the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory.
According to DARPA, ongoing work should shrink the system’s size; further test ranging and collision-avoidance features; mature additional capabilities of the system such as detecting aircraft below the horizon and in poor light conditions; and improve calculations for optimal aircraft trajectories to avert impending collisions.