COLOGNE, Germany – The European Commission has approved Saab to lead the bloc’s quest for a detect-and-avoid kit that would allow aerial drones to fly safely alongside civilian air traffic.

European Union officials awarded a $26 million grant to that effect last December, which the Swedish company got approval to announce on Feb. 19. The European Detect and Avoid System (EUDAAS) effort is one of a raft of initiatives under the European Defence Industrial Development Programme, which spreads seed money far and wide on the continent in search of promising defense technology.

The collision-avoidance project for drones goes after the problem of replicating the human ability to make the right decisions during dicey mid-air situations. Having such technology certified by the relevant European authorities is still a bit of an open race. For example, U.S. contractor General Atomics hopes to be first to the market here by way of add-on technology to its drones, while Airbus has said its French-German Eurodrone would be designed with such safety features built in from the start.

Ann-Kristin Adolfsson, who leads business development and strategy at Saab’s Aeronautics business area, called the European Detect and Avoid System a “strategic program” for the bloc.

“The technology brings the key piece of safety assurance to enable more autonomy and efficiency into aviation, enabling unmanned and remotely operated aircraft to take off in a broader sense,” she said in a statement. “While the project focus is on military unmanned aircraft, the technology is fully applicable to also civil systems.”

According to Saab, the system will entail a “fully automatic” collision-avoidance function, and parts of it would be integrated into the air traffic management system overseeing all flow in a given airspace.

“The technology will be fully compliant with civil requirements, also supporting safe operation of civil drones e.g. for services in support of deliveries, agriculture and forestry, environmental protection, border surveillance and Urban Air Mobility (UAM): a transportation system that move people by air,” the company statement reads.

The Eurodrone, developed by Airbus, Dassault and Leonardo, will serve as a test platform for the new collision-avoidance technology, according to Saab. Engineers will also test it on lower-flying, tactical drones.

The defense ministries of Sweden, Italy, Germany, France and Spain are the governmental backers of the EUDAAS program. On the industry and research side, Saab is joined in the consortium by the Italian Aerospace Research Center, Diehl Defence, the German Aerospace Center, Hensoldt, Airbus Defence and Space, Indra, Leonardo, Safran Electronics and Defense, Thales, Onera and Eurocontrol.

Sebastian Sprenger is associate editor for Europe at Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multi-national investments in defense and global security. Previously he served as managing editor for Defense News.

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