uAvionix’ ping2020 ADS-B receives FAA certification

By Luke Geiver | June 09, 2016

UAvionix may be considered a startup, but in less than two years the California-based company has sold several hundred small unmanned aircraft system specific automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) units to the UAS market. Following its recent completion of testing and certification for a new mini-ADS-B transceiver weighing only 20 grams through the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, the company is excited to expand its manufacturing efforts and place in the UAS market.

Adam Paugh, director of business development, said that many believed sUAS would never be able to utilize and rely on ADS-B technology for transmitting and receiving position data in the same manner as manned aircraft do. The requirements to build a compliant system were thought to be prohibitive to sUAS due to the size, weight and cost. Seizing this opportunity, uAvionix has created the ping2020 ADS-B transceiver. The ping2020 detects ADS-B transmissions from other aircraft within a 100 statue mile radius in real time receiving on both the 978UAT and 1090ES bands. The system also provides ADS-B Out capabilities on 978UAT at 20W and when coupled with the available pingNAV GPS/SBAS receiver, an sUAS user equipped with uAvionix technology can have full ADS-B In and Out capabilities in the National Airspace System.   

Led by Paul Beard, who created the Spektrum RC system for remote controlled aircraft and other hobby vehicles, the team of 8 engineers is confident its expertise and strategy. The ping2020 is not even the company’s smallest or most light weight ADS-B device. Prior to the ping2020 the company had created a smaller version. ADS-B certification requirements set by the FAA call for minimum power requirement specifications. “Our first ultra-low power transceiver would operate on half a watt, but there wasn’t any process set-up to send that low of a power type equipment through the approval process,” Paugh said. “It provided real-time situational awareness and it was designed to be low weight and low cost for mass UAS equipage, but there wasn’t a route for certification approval.” Today, the core of that produce lives on as the pingRX, a 1.5 gram ADS-B In system for sUAS, Paugh said.

“Our company’s expertise lies in power RF creating powerful radio transmission systems in a very small package,” he added, explaining why the company was not deterred at the need to embark on a pivot in design which became the ping2020. To complete the certification for the ping2020, the uAvionix team had to travel to Texas for a series of tests administered by the FAA and FCC. The tests concluded that the transceiver was certified for installation and use on both UAS and manned aircraft in the National Airspace System.

In response to concerns that the ADS-B network may lack sufficient capacity to handle hundreds of thousands of sUAS outfitted with ADS-B, uAvionix has engineered elegant solutions to mitigate concerns of the networks’ spectral capacity.  A looming FAA deadline for all aircraft to be ADS-B compliant is set to go into effect by January 1st, 2020. Paugh believes this mandate set for manned aircraft could carry over for the UAV market—a situation that could create an additional major opportunity for the company. Regardless of those who believe ADS-B on sUAS will require its own network or unique spectrum, Paugh notes that there is still a major demand for ADS-B today and will be well into the future.  Entities representing sUAS research institutions, government agencies and commercial drone delivery companies are already leveraging the merits of common network sense and avoid situational awareness provided by Ping, he said.

Investors are seeing the merit of uAvionix’ claims as well. In April, Playground Global invested a Series A investment round of $5 million into the company to further advance the technology for UAS.

“uAvionix is building critical infrastructure for providing robust, secure and reliable communication between drones and other aircraft,” said Andy Rubin, co-founder of the investment firm.

“We are determined to make a safer sky by combining disruptive technologies to bring an affordable ADS-B to market that’s compatible with the full scale aviation collision avoidance system that exists today,” said Beard.