NASA grant will help get KU student’s drone radar system from lab to market

A few months ago we wrote about a Kansas University student developing tiny on-board radar systems to help keep small commercial drones from crashing into things — one of the biggest safety concerns keeping such unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, mostly grounded by FAA regulations.

That student’s invention just got a big boost toward getting out of the lab and onto the market, KU announced Tuesday.

Electrical engineering doctoral candidate Lei Shi and UAVradars LLC, the startup company he created to develop the technology, received a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from NASA. According to NASA, such grants fund research, development and demonstration of “innovative technologies” that fulfill NASA needs and have potential for successful commercialization.

“In the near future, unmanned aircraft systems will be a multibillion dollar industry within the U.S., with uses in agriculture, film and photography, package delivery, search and rescue, and much more,” Shi said in KU’s announcement. “However, avoiding airborne collisions is a safety hurdle that must first be overcome.”

Six KU companies have gotten help submitting SBIR grant proposals through a new initiative at the university, and Shi’s company is the first of the group to secure one, according to KU. The SBIR Assistance Program, funded by a grant from the Kansas Department of Commerce, is a collaboration between KU Innovation and Collaboration and KU Bioscience and Technology Business Center.