There are countless promising applications where, with the right technology and regulation, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can improve business and civil efficiencies. For example, they could deliver medical supplies in remote areas, inspect critical infrastructure and respond to natural disasters. However, all of these applications require either remote operation or fully autonomous operation.

Before the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will adopt regulations that allow drones to fly beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) in national airspace, UAV manufacturers must equip their vehicles with sophisticated hardware and flight software to demonstrate they meet the stringent safety standards the agency has proposed.

As Kevin Fogarty, Semiconductor Engineering technology editor, pointed out, UAVs that fly legally over fences, walls and property lines are “disrupting more than just the few industries that use drones commercially.” And, according to the United States Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, the threat of drone technologies “is outpacing our ability to respond.”

Accordingly, UAV safety is the largest technical and regulatory barrier that drone manufacturers and technology providers must overcome in order to accelerate this flourishing new industry, in which radar plays a major role.

Drone Detection Radar

Radar drone detection enables faster and more effective responses to UAV threats – whether accidental or malicious – and safer UAV operations for applications such as precision agriculture, aerial surveying and mapping, project progress tracking and many more.

Drone detection radar systems accelerate safer UAV operations in three ways:

1. Enable UAV Traffic Management System Development

Air traffic management systems for manned airplanes have been around for quite a long time. For a large number of UAVs to fly BVLOS of the operator, a similar UAV air traffic management system is needed. Fortunately, both government and commercial organizations are collaborating to develop a solution to safely manage the low-altitude air traffic of UAVs.

According to NASA, a successful UAV traffic management system would require “persistent communication, navigation, and surveillance (CNS) coverage to track, ensure and monitor conformance.” A combination of advanced flight controllers and sensing technologies enable this CNS coverage, as well as providing onboard monitoring of autopilot, fault detection and response.

2. Ensure Collision Avoidance: During Take Off, Flight Duration and Landing

If drones are to operate autonomously, manufacturers and operators must ensure they are equipped with systems to recognize and avoid other drones. Radar sensors make drones smarter, giving the vehicle the ability to detect and avoid collision during the entirety of a flight.

Sensors of various types allow the vehicle to assess its surroundings, which involves the ingestion and processing of large amounts of information. The flight controller, which essentially acts as the brain of the machine, processes this vast amount of information and reacts appropriately to the environment. The safety of this system depends heavily on the accuracy and reliability of the myriad of sensors feeding information to the flight control system.

Engineers are working all the time to enhance the sophistication and reliability of UAV sensors. For example, microwave sensors are miniaturized radar sensors designed to take up less space, weight, and power, while still being powerful enough to map surfaces in all-weather conditions – further minimizing the risk of airborne collisions and crashes.

3. Improve Detection of UAVs by Ground-Based Security Systems

Regardless of intent, an unauthorized UAV could have devastating consequences. Consider the impact of a UAV that crashed – accidentally or maliciously – and damaged a water facility’s ability to operate and provide clean water. Or, the impact of a drone dispatched to spy on and release sensitive information from a government organization or private company.

Ground-based drone detection radar systems can detect non-cooperative intruders and cooperative UAV targets to protect government buildings, public spaces and events, transit hubs and much more from unauthorized drone access. Ground-based drone detection radar solutions can also send valuable data to UAV traffic management systems.

As UAVs become faster, smarter and remain airborne longer, they will continue to disrupt entire industries; the projected growth of the UAV market to exceed $100 billion by 2020 underscores this fact. This pace of progress is necessary before the FAA will adopt the necessary regulations that enable widespread drone adoption. Among many other advances, drone detection radar systems will serve as one of the cornerstones to industry growth.