With this SBIR, KEF Robotics will scale its attachable aerial autonomy subsystem to support a wide variety of camera configurations beyond rigid baseline stereo. This subsystem imbues small UAS with the capabilities of GPS-denied navigation and hazard detection and avoidance. With this added scalability, our subsystem will be able to fly on a wider range of aircraft, including fixed-wing aircraft with cameras on the wings and "air taxis" with cameras distributed over the body of the vehicle. These new capabilities will be critical in the first and last 50 feet of takeoff and landing, especially in emergency scenarios such as GPS or propulsion failure.
To enable these features, KEF will explore two objectives: (1) non-rigid sparse visual state estimation and (2) dense stereo-vision under changing extrinsics. Sparse visual state estimation is the current gold-standard for GPS denied SLAM, but currently works primarily on monocular or rigid, parallel-boresight stereo cameras. To achieve this, we will implement online extrinsics calibration methods and multi-camera feature initialization and test them with simulated datasets. Dense stereo-vision is commonly used for hazard detection and avoidance, but again almost exclusively uses rigid, parallel-boresight stereo cameras. KEF will test a number of dense stereo methods under uncertain calibration and develop techniques for arbitrary camera configurations.
NASA, along with the FAA, will play a critical role in the deployment and safety of urban air mobility "air taxis", and also leads a number of projects in safety and flight management of small unmanned aerial systems. The results of this research can inform the design of these traffic management systems, specifically with respect to dissimilar redundancy and emergency landing scenarios. This aligns with many of NASA's needs for UAS technologies, specifically "Sensing, Perception, Cognition, and Decision Making".
KEF Robotics is working with the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and other US Army partners to deploy its attachable autonomy subsystem to an Army built UAS, and is discussing alignment and pre-sales with multiple commercial UAS companies.