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UNMANNED SYSTEMS UPDATE

26 Sep 13. 3D Robotics’ drone ambitions take off. 3D Robotics, a pioneer in selling low-cost drones to technology enthusiasts, has raised $30m in new funding as it scales up to focus on commercial applications for its unmanned flying vehicles. The deal, led by Foundry Group and True Ventures, is believed to be the largest venture-capital investment yet in a civilian drone company, after Airware raised $10.7m from Google Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz this year. While the multibillion-dollar drone market has been confined largely to military applications, several start-ups in Silicon Valley and beyond have begun to prepare for new rules allowing unmanned vehicles to fly in US airspace, expected in 2015. Chris Anderson, chief executive of 3D Robotics, said that agriculture would be among the first markets to test commercial applications for the technology. Farmers are already allowed to use drones on their own land to survey crops, he said, but wider use will have to wait until the Federal Aviation Authority grants permits. In the first commercial drone flight in US airspace, oil and gas group ConocoPhillips this month tested a 40lb unmanned Boeing drone over Alaska, as part of the FAA’s assessment of the technology. Drones could eventually be used to monitor ice flows and whale movements around drilling sites, Conoco said. (Source: FT.com)

30 Sep 13. Chinese media reports indicate that the winner of the 2nd AVIC-Cup International UAV Innovation Grand Prix (UAVGP) in the fixed-wing category this week was fielded by a group of students representing Shenyang Aerospace University in Liaoning Province. The AVIC-Cup competition was held at Miyun Airport in northeast Beijing.
According to media reports, the fixed-wing UAV attempted to land on a mock aircraft carrier in the center of the airfield. It successfully snagged the second hook. It is unclear how well other competitors performed. (Source: UAS VISION/Defense News)

04 Oct 13. The U.S. Navy’s aircraft carrier-based unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) programme has budget and schedule related risks associated with its acquisition strategy, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report. The Navy is developing its Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program to provide increased maritime surveillance for its fleet of aircraft carriers. However, according to GAO, the current strategy in pursuing the programme will limit the ability for Congress to hold the Navy accountable for achieving goals on performance, schedule and cost. “Specifically, the programme will operate outside the basic oversight framework provided by mechanisms like a formal cost and schedule baseline, statutory unit cost tracking, and regular reports to Congress on cost, schedule, and performance progress,” GAO said in its report. During fiscal year 2014, the Navy estimates it will need $3.7bn to develop, build and field from 6 to 24 aircraft to initiate its UCLASS capability. There are no plans for a key review of the program until 2020, when UCLASS has already been fielded, which does not allow lawmakers to have a great deal of oversight when considering program funding. That cost estimate also exceeds the level of funding needed to budget for the programme through 2020, GAO said. GAO also found problems with the UCLASS request for proposal schedule. The Navy has scheduled eight months between the time it issues a request for aircraft design proposals to the time it awards the actual contract, a process that normally takes up to 12 months to complete, according to Defense Department officials who contributed to GAO’s report. In an effort to correct the programme risks, the government watchdog is recommending Congress direct the Navy to hold a Milestone B review for the UCLASS system after the preliminary design review of the first aircraft is complete in 2015. Navy officials have said they do not plan on implementing any of the recommendations from GAO’s report

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