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New investment by US Air Force gives lift to autonomous flying cars

Radar company Metawave lands a contract to advance the USAF’s new autonomous electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing aircraft, marking the next step in aerospace innovation.


US Air Force funds adaptation of automotive radar from Metawave.

Image: Metawave

On Wednesday, Metawave Corporation, a wireless technology firm, landed a coveted “phase one” contract with the US Air Force (USAF)—one it hopes will lead to critical innovation within aerospace. The goal of the agreement is to furnish high-precision, all-climate sensors for USAF’s aircrafts. In a study proposed to the military branch, Metawave stated it wanted to modify its “SPEKTRA” radar system for the USAF, which could potentially be used to automate various aerial operations more efficiently.    

Metawave’s SPEKTRA, which is an analog antenna system, was initially created to give the automotive industry high-precision radar capabilities, which the company says is accurate out to 330 meters. Currently, the system is being used for next-generation cars, which includes things like adaptive cruise control, lane change assistance, and automated braking. 

SPEKTRA’s high angular resolution enables it to distinguish between objects right next to each other (such as an automobile and a pedestrian), the company says, adding that its focused beams can also track cross-traffic and can detect things like road hazards, and at long ranges and all weather conditions. 

SEE: IT leader’s guide to the future of autonomous vehicles (Tech Pro Research)

Metawave told the USAF that SPEKTRA could be altered and used for its Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing aircrafts (or eVTOL). Among other things, Metawave says it can enable precision eVTOL navigation, which would include things like automated avoidance of obstacles.

“Both the automotive and eVTOL markets require the highest level of precision delivered by SPEKTRA,” Maha Achour, CEO of Metawave, recently said in a press release. Adding: “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.”

The partnership came about from a USAF initiative called Agility Prime, which was started to spearhead the development of technologies for operational, human-rated eVTOL aircrafts by 2023. As such, Agility Prime’s mission is to not only work with traditional aerospace companies, but also with innovative startups, like Metawave. AFWERX, which is the new innovation branch of the USAF, launched the Agility Prime initiative, with the eVTOL project—its largest to date. So far, it has awarded $38 million for more than 250 selected proposals that set out to improve aircraft and flight-enabling technologies.

For Metawave’s phase one effort, it partnered with the Arizona State University Center for Wireless Information Systems and Computational Architectures, with the goal of modifying the SPEKTRA radar for longer ranges and navigation in three-dimensional (3D) space.

Moreover, Metawave teamed up with the startup Rhea Space Activity (RSA) to develop the SPEKTRA concept as a parallel application for solving problems with eVTOL aircrafts with reliable situational awareness. 

SEE: Uber and AT&T testing 5G for flying cars

Shawn Usman, an astrophysicist and founder of RSA, contends that adaptation of driverless car technologies could be used for a cornucopia of national security applications. 

“Rapid technological innovation in the US driverless car sector is also demonstrating remarkable compatibility with the high-performance requirements of many Department of Defense missions,” Usman said. “RSA plays a crucial cooperative role in developing core technologies, like SPEKTRA, to push the boundaries of current consumer-facing innovations, while helping to solve critical national security issues.”

If all goes well with the project, Metawave said it intends to apply for a phase two contract, which it says would bring operational radar hardware to USAF personnel. 

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This post was written by and was first posted to TechRepublic

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