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KEF Robotics Awarded $1.5M for Tethered UAS Development

KEFRobotics TE UAS400x275

August 23, 2022

KEF Robotics, which develops visual autonomy systems for aircraft, has announced it was awarded a 12-month, $1.5 million Phase 2 SBIR award from the Army Applications Lab. The contract will fund KEF to develop advanced computer vision algorithms to fly tethered autonomous drones through an urban environment in day or night conditions. The company said the award will speed its ambition to provide vision-based autonomous flight to any aircraft, even in GPS-denied environments.

Tethered drones are aerial platforms that are connected to the ground via a power and data cable. Receiving power from the ground lets the drone stay aloft nearly indefinitely without recharging, providing a local, continuous overwatch capability to ground assets, KEF said.

Traditionally, these platforms have been used to provide security for stationary assets. In the Phase 2 project, KEF said it will study the use of tethered drones attached to highly mobile ground platforms by leveraging infrared and electro-optical sensors, machine learning algorithms, and powerful computation to build a dense and long-range map of its surroundings. This real-time map generation, paired with KEF’s planning and navigation modules, will allow the drone to autonomously avoid obstacles while moving in an urban environment at high speeds.

“Our platform-agnostic, attachable approach to aerial autonomy positions us well to provide safe tethered flight in dynamic and complex environments,” said Eric Amoroso, principal investigator and co-founder of KEF Robotics. “The tethered system allows us to couple the visual sensing on the ground vehicle and small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS). This coupling allows us to leverage both machine learning and stereo vision techniquest to detect and map difficult hazards like power lines and tree branches.”

KEF said the Phase 2 award represents its largest single Department of Defense contract to  date, and complements its ongoing support of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), SOCOM, Air Force and commercial partners.

Founded in 2018, KEF Robotics is based in Pittsburgh. For more details on the company, visit its website here.


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