KEF Robotics takes a modular approach to aircraft navigation and autonomy

Found in 2018, KEF Robotics Inc. stands at the front of improvement, leveraging advancements in computer vision and autonomy to redefine the capabilities of aircraft. KEF Robotics is at the advance guard of this progression, focusing on enhancing key aspects such as safety, consistency, and equipped range. For almost a century, autopilots have played an essential role in aviation, but recent strides in software-based technologies promise to promote aircraft functionality to unique levels.

KEF Robotics

Eric Amoroso, the co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of KEF Robotics, articulates the company’s philosophy Our Company’s mantra is to provide visual autonomy capabilities with any camera, any drone, or any computer.

This efficiency is coupled with a steadfast commitment to ensuring safe and reliable navigation, a critical aspect in the rapidly evolving landscape of autonomous flight. This commitment to flexibility and, deploy ability translates into a trans-formative impact on integration timelines, reducing the process from days to mere hours.

In emphasizing the significance of KEF Robotics, Eric Amoroso draws a compelling analogy: “Think of us as an alternative to GPS.” Operating without the reliance on GPS and embracing true autonomy on the aircraft becomes imperative in navigating complex scenarios, a capability that KEF Robotics is dedicated to providing. This sentiment is echoed by Olga Pogoda, Chief Operating Officer at KEF Robotics, who underscores the challenges highlighted in situations like those faced in Ukraine.

At the core of KEF’s offerings are sophisticated algorithms that harness the power of camera data, enabling autonomous flight across a diverse array of platforms and use cases. The Pittsburgh-based company has positioned itself as a valuable partner for aircraft designers, collaborating closely to seamlessly integrate these cutting-edge autonomy features into their designs.

With an assurance of flexibility, safety, and cutting-edge capabilities, KEF Robotics is set to play an essential role in ushering in a new time of aviation technology. In spirit, KEF Robotics Inc. emerges not just as a technological leader but as a planned partner in shaping the future of independent flight.

KEF Robotics: Redefining Aircraft Autonomy Beyond Signals

This competition served as the incubator for KEF’s vision of developing autonomous drones, providing an opportune platform for testing modular, third-party software integration—a fundamental stepping stone for the company. The genesis of KEF Robotics harks back to a pivotal moment—their entry into a Lockheed Martin competition, where they emerged triumphant among 200 initial teams, ultimately solidifying their position among the final nine.

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  • Notably, the autonomous aircraft possesses the ability to adapt its route dynamically based on encountered hazards, all while capturing visual data or readings during its mission and returning to the operator seamlessly, without the need for signal transmission. Looking toward the future, Olga Pogoda, Chief Operating Officer at KEF Robotics, envisions a streamlined process for operators, where complex missions can be initiated with a simple button push. Operators can provide an overhead image of a target building and a general direction, empowering the autonomous aircraft to embark on a journey—from takeoff, and navigation to the specified location, to a meticulous search pattern.

  • At the technological core of these endeavors is the Tailwind visual navigation software, a testament to KEF’s commitment to enhancing hazard detection and avoidance using stereo cameras, coupled with machine learning algorithms that elevate its capability to localize objects and execute intricate missions, particularly in defense and security contexts. Noteworthy collaborations followed, with KEF Robotics engaging with the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) in projects involving drones equipped with multiple sensors, specifically designed for the detection and location of weapons of mass destruction.

KEF Robotics (1)

KEF Robotics, driven by a relentless pursuit of innovation, stands poised to redefine the boundaries of signal-independent aircraft operations, introducing a new paradigm for autonomy in diverse and challenging environments.

Its robust performance has been validated at speeds up to 100 mph, demonstrating closed-loop autonomous operations with impressively minimal drift rates—just 2% of the distance traveled. However, it’s important to acknowledge that the software is on a continuous trajectory of refinement and expansion, with qualifications pending for extreme weather conditions, including dust, fog, or smoke. The groundbreaking Tailwind software, currently undergoing rigorous testing, promises imminent availability.  

Navigating the Integration Maze: KEF Robotics and the Modular Future of Aviation

The industry is witnessing the emergence of a technology stack, a fusion of layered capabilities sourced from specialized providers—a testament to the complexity inherent in the autonomy landscape. In the intricate web of autonomous systems, mirroring the dynamics seen in the automotive realm, a new paradigm is unfolding for aircraft and drones.

  • KEF Robotics, buoyed by Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants, aligns its trajectory with the Modular Open Systems Environment (MOSES) philosophy championed by the Defense Innovation Unit. Pogoda delves into MOSA’s core tenets, emphasizing the call for open architecture and the industry’s pivotal role in crafting tools that foster harmonious integration.  This philosophy enables companies like KEF Robotics to concentrate on the swift integration and innovation of Uncrewed Aircraft System (UAS) technology, particularly in the realm of plug-and-play visual perception.

  • A shift towards modularity is evident, where companies opt to construct aircraft with open interfaces, enabling customers to seamlessly enhance capabilities post-initial delivery. Olga Pogoda shines a light on a fascinating economic trend within aircraft procurement. Manufacturers are strategically streamlining their focus on aircraft production, acknowledging the intricate nature of autonomy software.

  • At the forefront of this transformative wave is the U.S. Department of Defense’s Modular Open Systems Approach (MOSA), a beacon guiding the industry toward cost-effective solutions, accelerated equipment upgrades, and enhanced interoperability. KEF Robotics stands as a torchbearer for this approach.

  • This strategic approach allows KEF Robotics to tackle the reliability and performance challenges in visual perception, offering the industry a cutting-edge autonomy solution. For enthusiasts seeking GPS-denied navigation, collision avoidance, and target localization, KEF offers a hardware-based payload, seamlessly integrating communication systems for autopilot interaction. For drones already equipped with compatible hardware, a software-only deployment option adhering to the MOSA philosophy is available. Eric Amoroso, the visionary Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer at KEF Robotics, unravels the layers of the company’s contribution to this modular landscape.  

He underscores the vulnerabilities exposed by widespread GPS jamming and the demonstrated effectiveness of low-cost Uncrewed Aircraft Systems. Amoroso reflects on the practical implications of MOSA against the backdrop of recent global events, such as the conflict in Ukraine.  It is within the framework of MOSA that KEF Robotics envisions not just a solution but a scalable, affordable, and trans-formative path forward, ushering in a new era in autonomous aviation technology.

KEF Robotics: Uniting Forces with Auterion and Duality AI in the Autonomy Frontier

In the intricate realm of GPS-denied navigation, a dynamic community had already laid the groundwork, featuring prominent contributors like Auterion and Cloud Ground Control, as Eric Amoroso, Co-founder of KEF Robotics, points out. However, KEF Robotics entered the scene with a distinct focus—elevating vision navigation to a plug-and-play level, a quest driven by inquiries from teams and companies seeking a seamless integration solution.

  • The integration journey with Auterion reached new heights in the exploration of Auterion Enterprise PX4. “Ongoing demos and endeavors showcase the commitment to pushing boundaries, with an eye on integrating KEF Robotics’ software with Auterion’s Skynode—an exciting chapter in the collaborative saga. Describing the rapid progress, Amoroso notes, “Auterion wanted to see a GPS-denied demonstration with its own UAVs, and within 18 hours, we got our system running with autopilot in a closed loop.

  • This powerful amalgamation aims not just to provide a robust solution for robots and autonomous systems but to pave the way for a collaborative ecosystem. The collaboration journey with Auterion took a significant leap in June 2023, as Auterion Government Solutions and KEF Robotics joined forces to intertwine AuterionOS with KEF’s Tailwind. While KEF Robotics brings forth a formidable instantiation of vision-based navigation, the collaboration is designed to create a framework where novel players can effortlessly integrate their solutions—think lidar-based state estimator and beyond. Amoroso highlights the symbiotic relationship with Auterion, a shared vision that emphasizes ease of integration and heightened reliability.

  • This collaboration sets its sights on developing autonomy software for a tethered Uncrewed Aircraft System (TeUAS). In a parallel venture, KEF Robotics announced a strategic partnership with Duality AI’s Falcon digital-twin integration program, a venture fueled by a U.S. Army Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract.  Falcon’s prowess in simulating diverse environments and drone configurations provides an invaluable platform for KEF Robotics to test its software and drones in challenging scenarios—picture cluttered forests and intricate simulations akin to the autonomy challenges faced by ground-breaking vehicles.

As they tread the path of autonomy, KEF Robotics stands at the intersection of technology and collaboration, shaping a unique narrative in the ever-evolving landscape of autonomous systems. These collaborations showcase not just KEF Robotics’ technological prowess but its commitment to fostering a collaborative innovation ecosystem.

Strategic Ingenuity: KEF Robotics’ Unconventional Approach to Software-Hardware Synergy

In the intricate landscape of autonomous systems, KEF Robotics stands out for its strategic decision to decouple software and, hardware a move fueled by unique insights and forward thinking. When probed about how KEF orchestrates task distribution between its systems and collaborative partners, Eric Amoroso unveils a nuanced perspective.

  • This freedom empowers KEF Robotics to embrace a generalized approach, expediting seamless integration onto novel platforms. The true advantage, as Amoroso articulates, lies in the liberation gained by decoupling autonomy from specific hardware.  For aircraft boasting an open design, the company adeptly incorporates its sophisticated software in less than a day, initiating flight operations and gradually advancing towards a more cohesive integration tailored to the customer’s specific requests.

  • It’s crucial to demonstrate our ability to execute a mission even without full control of position or velocity,” emphasizes Amoroso. Flexibility emerges as the linchpin in KEF Robotics’ approach. By proactively understanding interfaces in the early stages, the company conducts dynamic drone demonstrations, showcasing its adaptive prowess.

  • Customer preferences are diverse,” he notes. Recognizing the industry’s gravitational pull towards specific standards, Amoroso underscores the inevitable need for customizations tailored to individual customer requirements. “While some prefer seamlessly plugging in our navigational messaging, others lean towards a companion computer with the capacity to monitor measurements or guidance commands, validating or complementing their own planning strategies.”

KEF Robotics (2)This strategic emphasis aligns with the company’s commitment to showcasing the flexibility and adaptability of its technology—a testament to the power derived from decoupling autonomy and the potential for agile integration across an array of diverse platforms. Presently focusing on defense applications, KEF Robotics is gearing up for a groundbreaking multi-aircraft demonstration of Tailwind for the Army, slated for September 2024.

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