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A new radar-equipped took off last month in Texas for a series of tests aimed at finding out how well Bellevue-based Echodyne’s miniaturized detect-and-avoid radar could spot obstacles and other aircrafts. The results confirmed that Echodyne is in the right direction.
“It’s great to see our technology performing in real-world field tests exactly as designed,” Eben Frankenberg, Echodyne’s founder and CEO, said in a news release.
Echodyne is working on palm-sized radar systems that can be mounted on small delivery drones as well as autonomous vehicles for navigational purposes. The technology takes advantage of artificial materials to produce scanning arrays that have no moving parts.
In an interview at the company’s headquarters, Frankenberg told GeekWire the radar units should become commercially available early next year at an initial price of $9,995 and “will come down into the low singles of thousands, according to sales”.
During the flight tests, the hovered just below the 400-foot altitude limit for small unmanned aerial systems. From that height, it was able to detect the fences and the trees below, as well as a second that was sent to simulate the radar profile of a Cessna airplane.
Setting up a system that allows small drones to detect and avoid obstacles is one of the key steps that will have to be put in place before the Federal Aviation Administration gives the go-ahead for delivery drones to fly beyond their operators’ visual line of sight.
Until that system is in place, it’s highly unlikely that Amazon and other companies will be able to turn delivery into a viable business.
“We’re not feeding it into the navigation yet,” Frankenberg said. “I think early on, that’s what we’ll rely on either the maker or the operator to do. … What we’ll do is just feed them all the tracking data.”
He noted that Echodyne’s radar units aren’t just for drones.
“This developer’s kit also works great for autonomous cars,” Frankenberg said, “and we have a number of people who are playing with it for exactly that use case. We also have some people who are interested in it for marine applications. So it’s definitely getting a lot of attention, because this is the first time anybody has brought high-performance, electronically scanning radar into the commercial market.”