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American Robotics, SARA Team Up for Full-Autonomy Drone Operations


June 24, 2021

American Robotics, which develops autonomous commercial drone systems, has announced a partnership with Scientific Applications & Research Associates (SARA) to advance beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations in the National Airspace System. The goal is to unlock the $100 billion commercial drone market, the companies said.

American Robotics’ Scout System uses SARA’s Terrestrial Acoustic Sensor Array (TASA), an acoustics-based aircraft detection technology, to identify other aircraft and maintain a safe distance from them while in flight. The sensor technology, combined with advanced safety features of the Scout Scout system, enables best-in-class Detect and Avoid (DAA) capability, which is fundamental to meet and exceed FAA expectations for safe drone flight in the National Airspace System (NAS) with no visual observers on the ground.

American Robotics said the partnership and its recent FAA approvals for BVLOS flights represent a pivotal inflection point for the commercial drone industry, as well as the FAA’s broader acceptance and understanding of autonomous drone technology. It added that the technology “must be viewed from a systems perspective, encompassing a sensor’s ability to detect other aircraft, the drone’s ability to maneuver around the detected aircraft, and safely keep their distance in real-world environments.”

Integrating TASA into the Scout System enables extra maneuverability and system performance that exceeds the guidelines set by industry standards, and was a key factor in proving to regulators that the drone-based aerial intelligence platform would operate safely in the NAS without ground-based visual observers, the company said.

“The FAA has rigorous requirements for drone companies to prove they can operate safely in the NAS without visual observers or pilots on the ground, and with other manned aircraft,” said Vijay Somandepalli, CTO and co-founder of American Robotics. “For the drone industry to reach its multi-billion dollar potential and meet the safety regulations set by the FAA, there must be an ecosystem of competent and capable technology partners who work together to make automated commercial drones a reality.”

SARA’s TASA is able to detect aircraft even when line-of-sight is obscured by trees, buildings, darkness, fog, and other terrain features. Combining microphone technology with advanced signal processing algorithms, a single TASA unit detects aircraft bearing, approximates range, and determines aircraft threat status over a full 360-degree field-of-regard. The integration with Scout aims to ensure information transfer between TASA and Scout occurs reliably and with very low latencies. Once a manned aircraft is determined to be a threat by TASA and the information is passed to Scout, the drone then executes a proprietary avoidance maneuver to steer clear of the threat aircraft. American Robotics said this ensures that both aircraft remain separated in space to assure the safety of both aircraft.

“For drones to successfully collect valuable data, they must be able to function autonomously and operate in a safe and harmonious manner with other manned aviation that operate at low altitudes where drones typically fly,” said Jay Cleckler, chief technologist at SARA. “TASA has been proven capable of reliably detecting manned aircraft that are miles away in various demonstration tests with the FAA, and requires little infrastructure or power to operate. American Robotics is a great partner and their dedication to developing safe and reliable drone technology will truly help to advance the industry and commercial drone applications.”

More details on American Robotics’ systems are available here. To learn more about SARA, visit its website here.

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