PITTSBURGH, 9 June 2016. Near Earth Autonomy won $754,000 under NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program to develop Safe50, a software module for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commonly referred to as drones.
Safe50 is intended to enable safe and robust unmanned aircraft (UA) flight, particularly during the first and last 50 feet of the take-off and landing phases.
“By working with NASA to enable safe take-off and landing for UAS in urban and cluttered locations, even in degraded conditions, Near Earth is taking a big step in developing the systems required for ubiquitous operation of UAS in the National Air Space,” says Near Earth CEO Sanjiv Singh. “This is imperative to unlock the almost unlimited potential of UAS in all manner of commercial applications.”
“The innovation is the first of its kind to guarantee safe UAS operation during all phases of flight in presence of unmapped obstacles, without GPS (global positioning system),” officials say.
The award supports NASA’s interest in developing technologies that improve mobility, efficiency, and safety for UAS operations in the National Airspace System (NAS).
The project will be developed in partnership with NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffet Field, California.
With the increasing use of UAS in mapping, surveying, movie making, construction, inspection, law enforcement, agriculture, and other applications, enabling safe autonomous flight is imperative for the long-term success of the UAS industry.
“Near Earth’s Safe50 will be the first system to provide a solution for the most challenging phases of UA flight, the first and last 50 feet of the take-off and landing, when a multitude of obstacles and poor GPS reception pose severe risks to the aircraft,” company officials explain. Safe50 will accurately guide the UAS from take-off to landing in a fully autonomous manner, outside of the operator’s visual line-of-sight (VLOS), without a direct link with a base station, and with intermittent GPS reception.
The development of Safe50 will provide real-world solutions to UAS users currently limited to line-of-sight operations and full GPS reception for safe flight. In an industrial setting, aircraft will have the ability to take off from a confined space, survey critical infrastructure, collect necessary data, and land safely without the interruption of plant shutdown. During a hazardous incident, the aircraft can be utilized to survey unsafe environments rather than putting a human at risk.
The NASA SBIR award builds on the capabilities of Near Earth’s expertise in autonomy systems for UAS flight.
Near Earth currently is contracted with the Office of Navy Research’s Autonomous Aerial Cargo/Utility System (AACUS) program to develop sensor suites and perception software to enable full-size cargo delivery to unprepared terrain. Additionally, Near Earth is the prime contractor on the DARPA-sponsored project Miniature Optical Guidance and Navigation that is developing guidance and navigation systems for small and mid-size aerial vehicles.
Near Earth Autonomy is creating a future where unmanned aircraft are commonplace and safe, with technology that enables unmanned aircraft ranging in scale from sub-meter to full scale autonomously inspect, map, survey, and transport. The company’s engineers work on applications in infrastructure, maintenance, agriculture, mining, emergency response, and cargo delivery.
Near Earth is a privately held, spin-off from Carnegie Mellon University.
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