Honeywell has recently demonstrated the prowess of its IntuVue RDR-84K radar system as a drone piloted by Honeywell’s engineers has triumphed in a high-stakes game of dodgeball, repeatedly swerving around intruder aircraft in a series of tests that are key to the future of pilotless aviation.
Recently conducted in the Phoenix area, the tests showed that the radar can not only detect airborne traffic but can also decide autonomously on a course of action.
“We set up the ultimate game of ‘chicken,’ but the RDR-84K simply wouldn’t let these aircraft get into danger,” said Sapan Shah, Product Manager, Advanced Air Mobility, Honeywell Aerospace. “This is a leap forward in safety that could have far-ranging impacts across aviation.”
“This was all automatic,” said Larry Surace, Lead Systems Engineer for the RDR-84K, Honeywell Aerospace. “The radar recognized the danger, decided on a course of action, flew to safety and then made sure the danger had passed — all without input from anyone on the ground.”
“The radar handled everything we threw at it,” Surace said. “It saw the danger immediately and successfully executed multiple avoidance maneuvers.”
The radar can take over navigation and pilot an aircraft to safety using its onboard processor.
The RDR-84K, which is the size of a paperback book, has proven its ability to detect noncooperating traffic during extensive testing while mounted on helicopters and drones. But the new tests marked the first time it has performed the avoidance function without human intervention.
With both drones on autopilot, Honeywell engineers flew two quadcopter drones directly at each other 300 feet above the ground at a test site in the desert.
In multiple flights, the drone equipped with the RDR-84K detected the noncooperating “intruder” drone and evaluated its flight path.
Then it calculated an avoidance maneuver and took over navigation — flying left, right, up, down or stopping midair, depending on winds and other factors.
Once the danger of a collision had passed, the radar released control of the drone, and the autopilot guided it back to its original course.
The team then challenged the RDR-84K with increasingly difficult encounters, such as approaching from below to blend into ground clutter and from offset angles, testing the radar’s peripheral vision and high angular detection capabilities. In other flights, the team instructed the radar to wait longer before acting, forcing it to make more aggressive maneuvers.
Compared with most aircraft radars, the RDR-84K is tiny, weighing less than 2 pounds. Its face is only 8 inches wide and 4 inches high, and it is about 1 inch deep.