KEF Robotics Secures Phase II award from US Army for a Tethered Unmanned Aerial System (TeUAS)
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KEF Robotics Inc, a Larimer-based aerial autonomy developer, has been awarded a 12-month, $1.5M, Ph. 2 SBIR award from the Army Applications Lab. The contract will fund KEF to develop advanced computer vision algorithms to fly tethered autonomous drones through an urban environment in day or night conditions. This development will speed KEF’s ambition to provide vision-based autonomous flight to any aircraft, even in GPS denied environments.
Tethered drones are aerial platforms that are connected to the ground via a power and data cable. Receiving power from the ground allows the drone to stay aloft nearly indefinitely without recharging, providing a local, continuous overwatch capability to ground assets.
Traditionally, tethered platforms have been constrained to provide security for stationary assets. In this Ph. 2, KEF will study the use of tethered drones for highly mobile ground platforms by leveraging infrared and electro-optical sensors, machine learning algorithms, and powerful computation to build a dense and long range map of its surroundings. This real-time map generation, paired with KEF’s planning and navigation modules, will allow the drone to autonomously avoid obstacles while moving in an urban environment at high speeds.
"Our platform-agnostic, attachable approach to aerial autonomy positions us well to provide safe tethered flight in dynamic and complex environments,” said Principal Investigator and KEF Robotics Cofounder, Eric Amoroso. “The tethered system allows us to tightly couple the visual sensing on the ground vehicle and Small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS), from which our system uses both machine learning and stereo vision techniques to probabilistically map difficult hazards like power lines and tree branches.”
This Ph. 2 represents KEF’s largest single DoD contract to date, and bolsters their support of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), SOCOM, Air Force, and their commercial partners.