DARPA Flight Tests Demonstrate Optical Sense-and-Avoid Capability

A research effort associated with DARPA’s Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) program recently conducted flight tests of a shoebox-sized, plug-and-play system designed to enable manned and unmanned aircraft to automatically detect nearby aircraft and avoid potential mid-air collisions.

According to the DARPA release, an unmanned air vehicle (UAV) repeatedly used the technology demonstration system to detect and track in real time a Cessna 172G aircraft approaching from various vertical and horizontal distances.

DARPA says the integrated sense-and-avoid (SAA) system includes a single optical camera that provides imagery for detection and tracking; incorporates passive ranging features that assess the likelihood of an incoming aircraft intersecting the host aircraft’s flight path; and features collision-avoidance capabilities to determine the best way to safely redirect the host aircraft out of harm’s way.

The work is part of a DARPA effort to create a low-cost, easily installed system to detect oncoming or crossing aircraft and determine the best avoidance strategy compliant with standard rules that set minimum vertical and lateral distances between aircraft during flight.

“This successful flight test is a step toward adding external perception to ALIAS’ toolkit for advancing in-flight automation,” says Dan Patt, program manager in DARPA’s tactical technology office. “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 SAA system has the potential to enable a wide range of manned and unmanned systems to safely integrate into an increasingly populated and complex airspace.”

DARPA has been developing this capability over the past two years and put the technology demonstration system through extensive preliminary testing before the recent flight tests, which evaluated only detection and tracking. Based on the success of those flights, DARPA is planning another phase of the effort.


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