Low-Light, Low Cost Passive Terrain Sensing
Navy SBIR FY2014.1

Sol No.: Navy SBIR FY2014.1
Topic No.: N141-077
Topic Title: Low-Light, Low Cost Passive Terrain Sensing
Proposal No.: N141-077-0458
Firm: Near Earth Autonomy
5001 Baum Blvd. Suite 750
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213
Contact: Sanjiv Singh
Phone: (412) 855-3675
Web Site: http://www.nearearthautonomy.com
Abstract: Helicopter flight in support of military operations is often conducted at night under low light conditions, where loss of situational awareness can lead to accidents such as controlled flight into terrain (CFIT). Current terrain sensing systems used to aid pilots in maintaining situational awareness use active sensors, such as millimeter-wave radar and flash or scanning ladar, but active sensors pose a signature risk in threat environments. To address the trade-off between enhancing situational awareness and reducing the electronic threat signature, Near Earth Autonomy (NEA) proposes to develop passive terrain sensing explicitly for use in low-light conditions. The technology, which will be applicable to both manned and unmanned flight, will consider a variety of imaging solutions customized for use in low-light situations. Special consideration will be made for cost since the objective is to develop both low-cost and high performance sensing systems. After a trade-off analyzing the capabilities of existing sensors, NEA will identify design points appropriate to micro, small and full-scale helicopter UAVs. NEA will develop a design concept using the low-light sensors coupled with machine vision algorithms. The effort will culminate in a breadboard demonstration of the resulting design that will produce accurate real-time terrain data.
Benefits: The development of a low-light, low-cost passive sensing system will provide improved pilot situational awareness and threat reduction that applies across the span of the rotary wing military market. The system's safety enhancements (terrain and obstacle detection) apply to both the military and civilian markets. Loss of situational awareness and the resultant controlled flight into terrain are a major cause of helicopter accidents, and NEA's design concept directly addresses the problem. In addition to the manned helicopter market, the technology represented in the NEA design concept is applicable to the military and civil UAV markets. The civil UAV market is poised for significant growth with the public safety and precision agriculture segments leading the way. Additional civil market segments that would benefit from this technology include urban planning, environmental monitoring, infrastructure inspection, forestry, and inspections of wires, pipelines, mines and other structures in the energy industry.