Near Earth Autonomy, a privately held spin-off of Pittsburgh-based Carnegie Mellon University, was recently awarded $754,000 from NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research program to develop a software module for enabling safe unmanned aircraft system (UAS) operations.
According to the company, the Safe50 module will accurately guide a UAS from takeoff to landing in a fully autonomous manner, outside of the operator’s visual line of sight, without a direct link with a base station and with intermittent GPS reception.
The award is intended to support NASA’s interest in developing technologies that improve mobility, efficiency and safety for UAS operations in national airspace. The project will be developed in partnership with NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffet Field, Calif.
Near Earth’s Safe50 focuses particularly on the most challenges phases of flight: the first and last 50 feet of takeoff and landing, when obstacles and a poor GPS can pose risks to the drone.
“By working with NASA to enable safe takeoff and landing for UAS in urban and cluttered locations, even in degraded conditions, Near Earth is taking a big step in developing the systems required for ubiquitous operation of UAS in the national airspace,” says Sanjiv Singh, CEO of Near Earth. “This is imperative to unlock the almost unlimited potential of UAS in all manner of commercial applications.”
For instance, in an industrial setting, the aircraft will have the ability to take off from a confined space, survey critical infrastructure, collect necessary data, and land safely without the interruption of plant shutdown.
Near Earth is also currently contracted with the Office of Navy Research’s Autonomous Aerial Cargo/Utility System program to develop sensor suites and perception software to enable full-size cargo delivery to unprepared terrain. Additionally, Near Earth is the prime contractor on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency-sponsored project Miniature Optical Guidance and Navigation, which is developing guidance and navigation systems for small and mid-size aerial vehicles.