Air Force funds adapting auto radar for autonomous aircraft

Air Force funds adapting auto radar for autonomous aircraft

Metawave awarded U.S. Air Force prime contract to participate in Agility Prime, an initiative to advance the capabilities of electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft.


Palo Alto, California-based Metawave Corp. 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 USAF 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 automotive, analog beamsteering radar can distinguish between objects that are next to each other, in difficult driving scenarios, and in all-weather conditions. The current long-range high-resolution Spektra 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 a candidate for a rugged sensor system for future eVTOL aircraft and will enable precision eVTOL navigation and obstacle avoidance.

As part of the 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 space.

"Both the automotive and eVTOL markets require the highest level of precision delivered by Spektra. 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," said Maha Achour, Metawave CEO and founder.

The Agility Prime initiative was launched by AFWERX, the USAF’s rapid innovation branch. 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 $38 million thus far to more than 250 selected proposals for aircraft and flight-enabling technologies.

The Washington, D.C.-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.

Shawn Usman, astrophysicist and Founder of RSA, said, "Spektra is versatile enough to support unmanned VTOL operations as well as fixed-wing flight."