The Malta Independent 26 September 2018, Wednesday

Made in Malta: Collision avoidance for drones

Saturday, 18 November 2017, 11:15 Last update: about 11 months ago

Maltese companies have worked on a project to develop technology that could ‘sense and avoid’ collisions between drones and manned aircraft.”

“We started investigating a solution for this back in 2013 which led to the SAGRO Project being initiated back in 2015 through a collaboration with Idox Health (formerly 6pm) and the Institute of Aerospace Technologies of the University of Malta, which project was funded through the MCST National Research & Innovation scheme” Roger Archer COO of Hawk Aerospace said.

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“The aim of this project was to develop technology that could ‘sense and avoid’ collisions between drones and manned aircraft.”

“Sense and avoid is a term used for technologies that combine the use of advanced sensors such as cameras and electronic components to allow a drone to detect manned aircraft (that may be on collision course) and take evasive action to avoid it. This high-tech project was completely designed, built, and developed in Malta and involved the expertise and services of Maltese personnel.”

Roger Archer continued by saying that “The main achievements from this project is that the system could detect, classify and track obstacles in real time from the drone itself.” The project took two years to complete due to the complexity of the system and its objectives.

Hawk was mainly involved in providing design input based on its aviation/drone expertise as well as the flight testing. “Idox Health handled the development of the core software, whilst the consortium also had the expertise of the University of Malta’s Institute of Aerospace Technologies who built the two of the on-board sensors.  Once the first prototype was created, ground testing of the SAGRO sense and avoid technology commenced. When successful results were obtained from the ground tests, it was time to test whether the system would work in mid-air.”

Once safe aerial testing was achieved, the project looked at testing this technology on an actual drone. The SAGRO was loaded on one of Hawk’s drones, the HRV-06, to initiate the drone testing. Through a series of tests, we were able to obtain significant results that will allow us to take what was learnt and apply it in future product development.”

Roger Archer argued that although such long-range technology is widely available for large manned aircraft, it is still generally unavailable for drones due to their size. According to him, the project was a major challenge for the Maltese industry, but he was happy that in the end the consortium could engineer a solution.

The plan is to see how the SAGRO technology can be commercialized and this is where Hawk Aerospace will be taking an active role in further development towards making it ready for the marketplace, such that it can be used on commercial drones, the statement read.

Roger Archer also hoped that this development will also help in making available new technology that can aid in avoiding potential collisions with manned aircraft.

The project was funded by the Malta Council for Science and Technology (MCST) through the National Research and Innovation Programme. The total funding of the project was around   €200,000 which served at developing high technologies through the collaboration of Maltese industry, government and academic organisations.

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