Using radar to help drones self-navigate

I’ve written a few times about attempts to make drones better able to navigate safely, with startups promising drones that can navigate themselves, whilst Swiss researchers developed 3D maps that would help the drone to navigate.

A new startup, called Echodyne, uses a military style radar system to understand, and then navigate its surroundings, whether obstacles in its path or indeed other craft.

Despite the progress mentioned at the start, companies have still failed to convince the Federal Aviation Administration, who prohibit drones from being flown out of sight of humans until craft are able to detect and safely avoid other craft.

The Skydio system mentioned earlier uses cameras to sense the environment surrounding the drone, but this struggles to cope when ranges are extended hundreds of feet off the ground.

Radar controlled

The radar based system developed by Echodyne is due to launch in 2017 to help overcome this range based issue.  At the heart of the system is a component called a phase shift, which helps the radar scan its environment and detect objects within it.  It’s an approach that at the moment is primarily used in the military, in large part because the devices to perform it are large and cumbersome, not to mention very expensive.

By shrinking the devices down however, the company believe that they can make the approach more accessible, and cost effective.  It’s an approach that company believe could even be useful in other driverless technologies, such as cars.  Indeed, this might even represent an improvement on the lidar based method as the quality doesn’t deteriorate in bad weather conditions.

Check out the video below to see the Echodyne system in action.


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