Award-winning sense-and-avoid tech maker joins BVLOS project

By Aerotenna | December 01, 2016

Aerotenna, a developer of radar sensing and SoC flight control technologies for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), and Windhover Labs, a developer of low-cost, safe, and high-performance drone software, have collaborated on an autonomous flight solution that provides the level of safety, reliability, and intelligence required for safely operating drones beyond visual line of sight. The goal of the collaboration is to develop a hardware and software flight control solution that ensures drones can be safely integrated into the National Airspace System. 

Usage of civilian drones is increasing worldwide, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) forecasts sales of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to nearly triple in the next four years. However, before we can see mass usage of drones in the skies overhead, first the FAA must adopt regulations enabling drones to fly beyond visual line of sight in the national airspace. The technical requirement is for drones to be equipped with sophisticated hardware and flight software that enable a high level of safety meeting FAA standards. 

A more intelligent “brain” onboard the drone is needed to enable autonomous decision making. To overcome this technical barrier, Windhover Labs is working with Aerotenna to implement its aviation-grade Windhover flight software, based on NASA’s Core Flight Software (CFS), onto Aerotenna’s OcPoC, a FPGA SoC-based flight controller with robust capabilities for sensor fusion and real-time processing. 

Flying drones safely in the national airspace is similar to flying autonomous spacecraft in outer space, and Windhover flight software has a heritage and proven track record of mission success in space flight where autonomous operation is often a must. Windhover flight software is the most sophisticated flight software for drones. In addition to providing an autopilot for basic flight control and stabilization, Windhover flight software increases the drone's autonomous decision making power with robust onboard monitoring of the autopilot, fault detection and response. 

“The combination of Aerotenna’s award-winning OcPoC avionics platform and microwave sensing technology with Windhover Labs’ robust flight software opens up exciting possibilities for anyone wanting to safely extend their drone missions to autonomous, beyond line of sight operations," says Nate Uitenbroek, Co-Founder of Windhover Labs. "We look forward to partnering with Aerotenna to make this a reality." 

Aerotenna’s OcPoC flight controller, based on SoC FPGA technology, has the real-time processing power to support the onboard processing requirement of Windhover flight software. In addition, OcPoC’s sensor fusion capability enables the drone to use multiple sensors, including Aerotenna’s robust microwave radars, to further minimize the risk of airborne collisions and crashes. 

"Safety and reliability, the most important concerns for the mass application of UAVs, require technical innovation in both sensors and flight controllers, as well as the regulated procedure of certificating hardware and software," says Dr. Zongbo Wang, CEO of Aerotenna. "Windhover Labs’ efforts in improving the OS and software robustness have set a new standard for consumer and commercial drones, and Aerotenna will continue to work closely with Windhover Labs to create more end user benefits." 

Earlier this year, Aerotenna, won first prize at the Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) Preliminary Drone Sense & Avoid technology competition held on November 9 in Syracuse, New York. The competition was launched by a partnership between UTM Convention and to demonstrate drone sense and avoid technologies in an open competition to build public trust.