Echodyne Radars Anchor DARPA's Urban Drone Testing
Echodyne announced that its radars were key active sensors deployed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for its Aerial Dragnet program in San Diego during the week of October 21, 2019. In conjunction with the Applied Physics Laboratory at the University of Washington (APL-UW), Echodyne’s EchoGuard and EchoFlight radars provided comprehensive surveillance of drone activity in San Diego’s urban airspace.
The DARPA testing involved radar sensors on two large tethered aerostat balloons flying at up to 400 feet above ground level (AGL) 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.
Drone sales into the consumer and commercial segments will result in nearly 2 million unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) in the U.S. in 2020, and the global market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 20.5 percent to reach nearly $43 billion in 2024, per the FAA Aerospace Forecast and a separate industry report, Drone Analytics – Market Analysis, Trends and Forecasts. With this volume of drones in the airspace, 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 system under development could ultimately help protect U.S. metropolitan areas from potential drone-enabled terrorist threats.
“The DARPA requirement to create full urban airspace situational awareness has been challenging yet rewarding,” said 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 U.S. city like San Diego.”