The US Air Force Is Investing in Flying Cars — Business Startup Metawave Is Providing the Technology

By Elijah Labby | Tuesday, 12 January 2021 | Startup, Tech

When we were kids, we dreamed of being able to ride in flying cars. Now, that dream is one step closer to reality. The United States Air Force (US Air Force) awarded a major contract to sensor business startup Metawave in early January to develop an all-weather sensor for electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft.

3D render of air taxi taking off from a drone port.

The Startup’s Technology and Plans

The move is part of an effort to increase functionality in the eVTOL arena. Metawave has already developed technology similar to what is needed for the flying aircraft to function as intended, but the company’s technology was originally intended for cars. The technology is called SPEKTRA and relies on high-precision radar to allow innovative features like adaptive cruise control, lane change assist, and automated emergency braking.

While it’s difficult for companies to create sensors that will work under all conditions, Metawave Chief Executive Officer and founder Maha Achour says that if anyone is up to the task, it’s her startup.

"Both the automotive and eVTOL markets require the highest level of precision delivered by SPEKTRA," Achour said. "For both applications, the ability to reliably distinguish between several objects close together in all weather and light conditions is an important capability for all phases of transport, including flight. The most significant difference is the operational range of the radar."

Metawave’s partners also believe they are the right choice for the job. Shawn Usman, astrophysicist and Founder of RSA, which worked with the business on SPEKTRA, said the potential for adapting the technology to flight is great.

"Rapid technological innovation in the US driverless car sector is also demonstrating remarkable compatibility with the high-performance requirements of many Department of Defense missions," he said. “ SPEKTRA, in particular, is versatile enough to support unmanned VTOL operations as well as fixed-wing flight.... “[SPEKTRA could] push the boundaries of current consumer-facing innovations, while helping to solve critical national security issues."

A Look Ahead at Innovation and Challenges

The Air Force’s first tests of the company’s technology will come this year and aim to be operational by 2023, so it’s clear that the military branch is working on an expedited timeline.

This is for several reasons, but as technology news website Osinto noted, one of the foremost reasons is that the US has ceded ground on several technological fronts — notably drones — to the Chinese.

This creates a problem for the US as tensions have continued to flare between it and China (as well as its allies) for several years. It’s not known what will come from these tensions, but neither nation wants to be found lacking in an increasingly important technological capabilities race. The development of eVTOL is a sign that the US is taking this possibility seriously, and Metawave will play a crucial part in it.

About the Author

Headshot for author Elijah Labby

Elijah Labby is a graduate of the National Journalism Center. He has previously written for Broadband Breakfast, a technology and internet policy website.

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