Vigilant Aerospace provides multisensor collision avoidance software for drones, with two licensed NASA patents allowing research and development directly with NASA. And, FlightHorizon won the national NASA Commercial Invention of the Year Award 2021.
Interview with Kraettli Epperson, Vigilant Aerospace Systems CEO.
How do you work with NASA?
The software is used with both larger drones and small drones and can be used both onboard the drone or on the ground. The software displays the air traffic around a drone on a map for the remote pilot and can provide automatic avoidance maneuvers to fly the drone away from an incoming airplane.
To do this, we integrate a wide variety of sensors out of the box including radars, drone autopilots, transponders and traffic data directly from the FAA.
We serve government users, like the military and first responders, and commercial organizations that are developing service corridors and drone ports to enable long distance drones to perform infrastructure inspections and even delivery of packages by drone. Larger air taxis may also eventually shuttle people from place to place and deliver emergency supplies during natural disasters.
Our software is designed for any organization that wants to fly drones over long distances and beyond the line of sight of the pilot. The software fills a crucial gap in the market and has been used in projects by NASA, the FAA and the U.S. Air Force as well as by increasing numbers of corporate drone users and even air taxi developers.
What niche do you fill in the aerospace industry?
As the number of drones increases throughout the United States, a solution for automatic collision avoidance must be adopted before we can see large-scale use over long distances. Drones can be used for things like critical infrastructure inspection, looking at dams, wind farms, pipelines and reservoirs, or to deliver emergency medicines and perform search and rescue missions over long distances. All of these flights require drones to be able to automatically detect and avoid other aircraft and this is the gap that our technology fills. Automatic collision avoidance software is crucial to allowing the industry to grow and for the full economic value of drones to be obtained in the United States.
How are you pushing innovation forward in the aerospace industry?
We believe full autonomy is the future of the drone industry, and we focus on automatic collision avoidance to make safe autonomy possible.
We use smart algorithms to select avoidance maneuvers that are already approved by the FAA and we try to adhere to industry technical standards in how we design our software to allow wide adoption without extensive modification.
We’re also very focused on multi-sensor correlation to de-duplicate aircraft tracks captured by multiple sensors simultaneously. This allows us to pull the various data sources into a single big picture view of the airspace and is also required to enable fully automatic avoidance.
We are always on the lookout for new and better sensors and we are increasingly finding very lightweight sensors, the size of a hardback book, that allow us to detect aircraft at longer distances with lower weight, power requirements and cost.
What is the best example of the innovation or growth you’ve seen lately at Vigilant?
The company has recently won two contracts with the U.S. Air Force and has multiple pilot projects ongoing with U.S. military commands. We are also working on projects for commercial users like air taxi developers and droneport developers.
We think of drones as flying robots, and they are robots that need to be safe to perform their duties. Just as generative AI is starting to have a big impact on the media, we think that flying robots will have a big impact on logistics and public safety, among many other sectors.
What does the future hold for Vigilant? And Oklahoma’s aerospace industry?
Vigilant is focused on hiring and growth right now to support an increasing number of clients and projects. It’s an exciting time to be involved with drones, and we see a bright future for this industry in Oklahoma.
We are happy to see leaders in Oklahoma state government, at OSU, at Tulsa Innovation Labs, at the SBA’s UAS Cluster Initiative, at the Osage Nation and at other tribal governments investing in drone safety systems and infrastructure to make the state more attractive and competitive for the industry.
A diverse group in the state was recently awarded a large U.S. Economic Development Agency grant to help develop the industry in northeastern Oklahoma, and the state can leverage this momentum to attract more innovators and operators, to make the right types of investments and build a national leadership position.