Active radar sensors play key role in DARPA urban drone testing

November 28, 2019 //By Rich Pell
Active radar sensors play key role in DARPA urban drone testing
Metamaterials-based radar security technology startup Echodyne (Kirkland, WA) has announced that its electronically scanned array radars were key sensors deployed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for the agency's Aerial Dragnet program in San Diego last month.

DARPA's Aerial Dragnet program is aimed at achieving the technically difficult goal of detecting and tracking small unmanned aerial systems (UAS) in urban terrain. In conjunction with the Applied Physics Laboratory at the University of Washington (APL-UW), says the company, its EchoGuard and EchoFlight radars provided comprehensive surveillance of drone activity in San Diego’s urban airspace.

"The DARPA requirement to create full urban airspace situational awareness has been challenging yet rewarding," says Tom Driscoll, CTO of Echodyne. "In conjunction with APL-UW, we operated more than a dozen radars on aerostats and rooftops to detect and track urban drone flights. Our performance demonstrated that Echodyne’s innovative, beam-steering, electronically scanning radars have unique operational, sensitivity, and intelligence characteristics necessary to conduct networked airspace surveillance over a major US city like San Diego."

The testing involved radar sensors on two large tethered aerostat balloons flying at up to 400 feet above ground level over San Diego and National City, as well as fixed building-top and tower-mounted locations providing large-area coverage. The sensors were tuned to detect and track small drones and distinguish them from background objects such as buildings, vehicles, and birds.

The testing assessed how well the system could detect, track, and identify over 150 sorties of drones including various commercial off-the-shelf models, similar to those available at electronics stores or online retailers, which simulated unauthorized/unidentified drones flying in the city. With drone sales in consumer and commercial segments expected to result in nearly two million unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the US in 2020, says the company, dense urban areas will need to evolve from point security deployments to full urban airspace situational awareness.

San Diego was a natural choice to test this system given the city’s participation in the FAA's Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program (IPP). While DARPA's focus is on protecting U.S. troops from drone attacks in urban settings overseas, the company says, the system under development could

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