Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s an autonomous micro aerial vehicle (MAV) with a Frequency Modulated Continuous Wave 24GHz radar transceiver system. Catchy, isn’t it?
As science and technology take to the skies like never before – think drone doorstep delivery and military target decoys – the safe flight of these aerial vehicles is now the need of the hour. Collision avoidance poses a major concern for any autonomous aerial vehicle, and while GPS and other simpler systems have sufficed in the past, an evolving urban environment and the availability of more advanced technology warrants more sophisticated navigation.
Working to meet these exacting challenges is Dr Glenn Matthews and his team of research engineers at RMIT University, whose work has been bolstered by support from the Defence Science Institute (DSI). Upon receiving a CERA Grant in 2017, Glenn and the team set out to develop a radar system for Defence Science and Technology (DST). The proposed - a MAV with a FMCW 24GHz radar transceiver system - would assist MAV navigation by detecting obstacles in a 360° field and provide flight situational awareness.
A key feature of any effective autonomous MAV is the ability to navigate complex environments without the help of an external guiding source such as a satellite signal. The radar system developed by Glenn and his team can be successfully operated in both enclosed and outdoor environments as it does not rely on existing infrastructure. Additionally, the system’s quicker reaction time makes it suitable for implementation in military vehicles that operate in fast-paced, critical scenarios.
While the radar system is focused around MAVs, it can be adapted to suit any form of autonomous vehicle, allowing DST to freely modify the system for ground vehicles as well. “Developing our own hardware platforms means less reliance on external vendors, particularly where commercial confidence is required,” says Glenn, commenting on the value add for Defence in the form of advanced, key enabling and indigenous technologies.
The MAV's FMCW 24GHz radar transceiver system can be successfully operated in both enclosed and outdoor environments
The vast potential of the radar system helped lead to further funding from the CRC for trusted autonomous systems (Trusted Scalable Effect Delivery by Expendable, Autonomous Swarms) for the team.
Additionally, the funding awarded though the DSI provided momentum to establish a dedicated laboratory – the Surface Mount Device Laboratory (SMD) – at RMIT, for the fabrication of modern prototypes. The lab gives researchers and undergraduate students access to state-of-the-art electronics fabrication and testing and measurement equipment. “This new facility allows a research group to take conceptual designs to functional prototypes with minimal effort,” says Glenn.
Working in collaboration with DSI has led to significant professional development for Glenn. “The grant provided the opportunity to establish a dedicated group that is capable of producing cutting-edge functional prototypes, unusual for an academic institution,” he says, adding that the grant has also given him the opportunity to interface with the defence sector and establish ongoing relationships and projects.
Glenn Matthews’s is one of many successful stories of research progression to come out of DSI, demonstrating how research outcomes are transferable and of value across multiple sectors not just defence. DSI encourages researchers to make contact and leverage the many grant and support options available to advance their research.