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25 Jul 18. Zephyr S set to break aircraft world endurance record. Zephyr S, Airbus’ High-Altitude-Pseudo-Satellite, has surpassed the current flight endurance record of an aircraft without refueling of 14 days, 22 minutes and 8 seconds and continues to pioneer the stratosphere. The Zephyr aircraft departed for its maiden flight from Arizona, USA on 11th July 2018. This first flight of the Zephyr S aims to prove and demonstrate the aircraft capabilities, with the final endurance record to be confirmed on landing.
23 Jul 18. China harbours ‘giant’ unmanned submarine aspirations. China has its heart set on large unmanned submarines that could be deployed worldwide, with an R&D programme currently under way at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. This project could reach fruition in the early 2020s with their first oceanic deployment. News of this artificial intelligence (AI) project conducted under the Shenyang Institute of Automation was revealed by the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong-based newspaper that often receives exclusive access when it benefits the Chinese authorities. The newspaper’s sources also said these extra-large UUVs (XLUUV) are ‘aimed particularly at United States forces in strategic waters like the South China Sea and western Pacific Ocean’, where they could conduct surveillance at chokepoints. These autonomous submarines would augment regular manned submarines, and also combine with USVs, UUVs and UAVs to conduct coordinated missions where applicable. Unmanned submarines do not have to add in safety and comfort aspects for crews, making them smaller and far cheaper. That means more could be produced and operated simultaneously. However, their reliability would have to be stringently high as no repairs can be conducted on board. They would have cargo bays that can be configured for different payloads, including surveillance sensors, torpedoes and missiles. Challenges for the AI programmers are such decisions as avoiding collisions and detection, differentiating between naval and commercial ships, and plotting courses. The researchers assured that the final decision to attack or not to attack would still be in the hands of commanders. Lin Yang, marine technology equipment director at the Shenyang Institute of Automation, confirmed the existence of this project. Yang is also chief scientist of the classified Project 912 to develop new military UUVs. (Source: Shephard)
23 Jul 18. Leonardo Trials Solo and Hero. Leonardo continues to invest heavily in unmanned helicopter technology, offering the Solo and Hero platforms. No customer has yet bought them, but the Italian and British defense ministries have provided funding for flight trials, and now the company is leading a major research contract on unmanned maritime surveillance for the European Defence Agency (EDA). Italy is still experiencing substantial illegal cross-Mediterranean migration, so it is appropriate that Italy’s major OEM should lead the EDA’s €35m (US$41m) OCEAN2020 project. Leonardo is managing 42 partners from 15 European countries, including aerospace/defense companies, research centers, and ministries of defense. The work will lead to an operational demonstration in the Mediterranean next year during which both the Solo and Hero will fly from various naval vessels. A second demonstration is scheduled for 2020 in the Baltic Sea. The Solo is based on the SW-4 manned helicopter designed and produced by PZL-Swidnik, the Polish company that Leonardo Helicopters (then AgustaWestland) bought in 2010. That same year, Leonardo began adapting the SW-4 as a rotary-wing unmanned aerial system (R-UAS) for ISR missions and gained its first demonstration contract from the UK Ministry of Defence in 2013. In 2015 the EDA sponsored a trial in Italy that demonstrated “manned-unmanned teaming.” In October 2016 the Solo returned to the UK to participate in the Unmanned Warrior exercise off the Scottish coast. Meanwhile, the Solo has also flown in Poland on maritime mission trials, which will continue through 2019. These trials were all flown with a safety pilot on board, and Leonardo has stressed the flexibility of such an optionally piloted vehicle (OPV). However, the Solo made its first flight without a safety pilot in late 2017.
The Hero is a much smaller machine that was developed as a pure R-UAS from the outset by another Italian company, Systemi Dinamici—hence its designation, SD-150. Leonardo first partnered with that company and then acquired total ownership last December. In December 2015 the European Union paid for a demonstration in Italy of how the Hero could be integrated with air traffic control systems in non-segregated airspace. This year, the UK MoD is sponsoring a shipboard demonstration of the Hero. Although the useful load (fuel plus payload) of the Hero is much smaller than the Solo—85kg (187 pounds) compared with 447kg (986 pounds)—its endurance is potentially greater, at six hours with a 35-kg (77-pound) sensor payload. Both machines can reach 10,000 feet, and Leonardo hopes to extend their ceilings to 16,000 feet. They can each accept JP5 and JP8 fuel, but for shipboard operations, the Hero can fly on jet-A, needing only a software change to the heavy fuel engine.
With the loss rate of similar, competing R-UAS, Leonardo emphasizes the safety features of the Hero. These include a dual-redundant electrical system and a triple-redundant flight control system. The command and control datalink is separate from the payload datalink, including the positions in the ground stations that control them. An independent means of locating the Hero is provided (ADS-B or IFF). The flight-termination system, if ever needed, also operates on a separate datalink. One ground station can control two helicopters and is common between the Hero and the Solo. The Hero has been exhibited with Leonardo’s own ultra-lightweight Gabbiano synthetic aperture radar; an L3 Wescam MX-8 EO/IR sensor; and the maritime version of IFF, AIS. The Solo can carry larger sensors, but Leonardo notes that there can be advantages to the two helicopters carrying common sensors, if operated in tandem. Other potential payloads—perhaps only for the Solo—include LIDAR, ESM and a maritime-optimized radar. Ahead of the OCEAN2020 trials, the Hero has flown from an Italian Navy ship. It demonstrated a deck sensor and autopilot modes for landings and takeoffs in up to moderate sea states. Carriage by an NH-90 helicopter was also demonstrated. Leonardo has set a goal of achieving Italian military certification next year. Leonardo (Outside Exhibit L1) has an ambitious vision for the further development of maritime R-UAS. Anti-submarine warfare, mine warfare, and ship-to-shore resupply could all become possible. The company said that it is creating a core of cross-platform technologies that could be exported to other, larger helicopters that it produces. The OCEAN2020 trials will also involve fixed-wing manned and unmanned platforms, notably Safran’s Patroller UAS. It will be outfitted with a new mission system, including a maritime surveillance radar, an AIS, and Safran’s Euroflir 410 EO/IR pod that is already fitted on the version of the Patroller that is entering service with the French army.(Source: UAS VISION/AIN Online)
23 Jul 18. This Stealthy Drone May Be The Future of Russian Fighter Jets. Russian industry sources called this heavy armed stealth drone a prototype for their sixth-generation aircraft. A massive, 22-ton armed drone to be flight-tested later this year will be the model for Russia’s sixth-generation fighter jet, according to state media. Dubbed Okhotnik, or Hunter, the strike-and-reconnaissance drone — roughly the size of a U.S. Air Force F-15 — is designed to have a top speed of 372 mph, a maximum range of 2,175 miles, and a payload of up to two tons, TASS reported July 20. As for the next-gen jet:
“First of all, it should be unmanned and capable of performing any combat task in an autonomous regime,” a Russian industry source told TASS. “In this sense, Okhotnik will become the prototype of the sixth-generation fighter jet.”
The source added that weapons firing would remain a human decision. In 2014, Air International described the Hunter as Russia’s “primary tactical aviation programme for the next decade after the completion of the Su-57 fifth-generation fighter.”
But the drone is far slower than the 1,500-mph Su-57 — so it’s unclear exactly how it will prove to be a prototype beyond having a high degree of autonomy.
“Sounds like Russia wants everything to be included into the new design at once,” said Sam Bendett, a researcher at the CNACorporation and a member of CNA’s Center for Autonomy and AI. “In reality, they will probably have to compromise, selecting more realistic qualifications for the new aircraft. Most importantly, this will be an expensive endeavor, further pushing Russian designers and the Ministry of Defense to be more selective in approving the final aircraft specs. However, some qualifications, like optional manning, autonomy and some form of artificial intelligence will probably be included.”
Bottom line, said Bendett: “Ohotnik is barely flying yet and some time will pass before it becomes an operational variant. Nonetheless, this unmanned aerial vehicle and Russia’s future combat aircraft plans offer a glimpse into Moscow’s thoughts on future warfare.”
Whatever else is on it, and whatever form it takes, Russia’s next-generation fighter jet will likely include radio-photon radar, an experimental new sensor that uses microwave energy and optical lasers to find objects that conventional radar would miss — or at least that’s how Russian military sources are describing it in open press. “The radio-photonic radar will be able to see farther than existing radars in our estimates. And, as we irradiate an enemy in an unprecedentedly wide range of frequencies, we’ll know its position with the highest accuracy and after processing we’ll get an almost photographic image of it: radio vision,” Vladimir Mikheyev, an official with Russia’s Radio-Electronic Technologies Group, told Tass last July. Mikheyev went on to describe a myriad of direct energy and electromagnetic weapons that might be incorporated onto the craft. Additional elements of the craft will emerge from the Su-57, which made its debut over Syria in February, some two years late. (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Defense One)
24 Jul 18. Elbit expands Air Keeper family. Elisra, the electronic warfare (EW) and signals intelligence (SIGINT) arm of Elbit Systems has developed a rotary-wing version of its Air Keeper multifunction SIGINT and EW system and is working on an unmanned aircraft version, Jane’s has learned. The Air Keeper system includes an electronic support measures (ESM) and electronic intelligence (ELINT) module that operates in the 500 MHz to 40 GHz frequency range and automatically detects, intercepts, measures, identifies, and monitors ground-based, ship-based, and airborne radar systems. The communications intelligence (COMINT) and direction finding (DF) module operates in the 2 MHz to 6 GHz frequency band, including cellular interception, providing detection, demodulation, classification, monitoring, and geolocation. The electronic countermeasures (ECM) module, which is integrated with the ESM and DF, is used to jam targets selectively, either automatically or manually. The communications jamming element, which includes a look-through capability, can be used against modern signals including frequency hoppers. The COMINT and ELINT data is now fused using a data fusion engine developed by Elbit’s Sigmabit subsidiary, incorporating bespoke algorithms and machine learning capabilities. This feature is also used in other products across the group. Air Keeper was launched in 2015 using the Airbus C295 tactical airlifter as a demonstrator. Jane’s understands that the system has been supplied to Colombia in this configuration, and to an unspecified Asian country on a similar platform. Speaking at the 2018 Farnborough International Air Show, Eytan Eshel, vicepresident of Elisra’s SIGINT division, said Air Keeper has now been integrated on a “large” rotary wing platform and is operational, although he was unable to discuss specifics about the platform or the customer. He added that integration on a rotary wing platform presented several challenges including noise (for COMINT) and the effect of the rotor blades. Eshel also revealed that Elisra is also developing an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) version of the Air Keeper with Elbit’s Hermes 900 as the launch platform. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
24 Jul 18. XQ-58A Valkyrie ‘Loyal Wingman’ Test Flights Scheduled. An experimental aircraft designed to demonstrate a radical new concept in modern air warfare will enter flight testing this autumn, says Major Gen William Cooley, commander of the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) The XQ-58A Valkyrie, built by target drone maker Kratos, embodies one approach to the AFRL’s concept of a “Loyal Wingman”, a low-cost, unmanned aircraft that could expand the combat capacity of a dwindling fleet of manned fighters and bombers without busting the service’s budget. The Valkyrie “has a great deal of interest” within the USAF, Cooley said on 10 July at an event hosted by the Air Force Association.
“The basic idea is can we make a capable combat aircraft very low cost by using modern manufacturing techniques and drive the cost as low as possible,” Cooley says.
AFRL officials launched the XQ-58A under the low cost attritable strike demonstrator (LCASD) programme. The use of the relatively unfamiliar “attritable” term was intentional, Cooley says. The AFRL’s programme managers wanted to make it clear the drone is not disposable. If such a system were fielded, the goal would be to reuse the aircraft as much as possible, but losing the losing aircraft to accidents or hostile fire would be financially tolerable. That approach stands in contrast not only to highly capable manned airdraft, such as the Lockheed Martin F-22 and F-35, but also to previous concepts for a highly capable — and expensive — unmanned combat air vehicle. The AFRL now frames the operating concept for the LCASD as a Loyal Wingman. Instead of operating on its own, the XQ-58A demonstrator will be teamed with a manned fighter, such as an F-35. Details fo the XQ-58A design have not been released. The AFRL is careful to describe a rendering of the aircraft released last year as an “artistic concept” that may not accurately reflect the real vehicle. Full details of the configuration remain secret, but the AFRL confirms the XQ-58A is 9.14m (30ft) long with an 8.23m wingspan. It also can carry a 272kg (600lb) payload internally or mid-wing, the AFRL says. It follows a series of experiments in 2015 and 2017 funded by the AFRL called Have Raider. Lockheed’s Skunk Works division adapted the controls of an F-16 to fly fully autonomously, although a safety pilot was present for the demonstrations. In the second series of tests, the autonomous F-16 responded by itself to a pop-up target, identifying and responding to the new threat without human involvement. If the USAF moves forward with a Loyal Wingman, one option could be taking retired combat aircraft, such as F-16s and B-1s, updating their computers with autonomous software, and returning the stored aircraft to combat as unmanned partners for manned aircraft. But AFRL seems to prefer taking the approach exemplified by the XQ-58A.
“Potentially it may make more sense to build on a programme that we’ve been advancing for a number of years and that’s the low cost attritable aircraft,” Cooley says. “The XQ-58A is the first step.” (Source: UAS VISION/FlightGlobal)
23 Jul 18. Azerbaijan looks to produce Aeronautics multirotor UAV. A memorandum of understanding (MOU) has opened up the possibility of Azerbaijan co-operating on the Pegasus 120 multirotor UAV made by the Israeli company Aeronautics, although it represents a statement of intent, not a signed contract, Jane’s has learnt. The information clarifies an 11 July announcement by Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defence Industry, which stated that Deputy Defence Minister Yahya Musayev and Aeronautics chairman Yedida Yaari had signed an MOU for Azad Systems to jointly produce new types of UAVs in the Central Asian country. Azad Systems already makes Aeronautics’ Orbiter family of UAVs for Azerbaijan’s armed forces, including the Orbiter 1K loitering munition, which it calls the Zarba. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
21 Jul 18. USMC wants 15 suicide drones swarming from the hands of one front-line Marine. The Corps wants to put the power of a swarm of suicide drones, also known as loitering munitions, in the hands of one Marine. It’s a plan to help boost lethality and independence of front-line troops operating in austere locations outside the striking range of manned aircraft. The thought is to get a single operator to control up to 15 suicide drones with “minimal operator burden,” Capt. Matt Cornachio, a fires project officer with Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, said during a media roundtable Thursday. And so far, the Corps has successfully tested a single operator controlling six drones at once. The loitering munitions will come with a mix of capabilities, from drones packing lethal warheads to take out enemy troops or vehicles, to an electronic attack payload to jam enemy communications and air defense. The single Marine piloting the drones would in effect become his own close-air support and electronic warfare operator. The Corps already is amid plans to equip its RQ-21 Blackjack drone with the Intrepid Tiger II counter radar capability payload, according to the Corps’ 2018 aviation plan. The capability would greatly expand the independence of Marines operating across the vastness of the Pacific, which will see Marines operating in decentralized locations on remote island bases or floating barges. It’s a fighting concept known as Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations being pushed by the Corps. To survive in this fighting environment, the Corps will need to be mobile, fast and light if it wants to avoid the onslaught of high-tech Chinese ballistic missiles and sophisticated electronic attacks. That also means that at times small bands of Marines may not always be in striking range of manned U.S. aircraft, or even dominate the airspace in which they are operating. But to work, the swarming suicide drones will need to be easy to operate to keep Marines focused on the battlefield and not glued to a tablet screen. To ease operations, the Corps wants its future loitering munitions to come with automatic target recognition capability.
It’s about “having the machines do the work for you,” Cornachio said.
The Corps is already in the middle of testing its suicide drone swarming capability. In late July, the Corps wrapped up an endurance test of one of its drones, pushing a group two unmanned aircraft at almost two hours of flight, according to Cornachio.
“It is not out of the realm of possible to think these things can be in the air for three up to four hours,” he said.
The suicide drones will have a mix of launch capabilities from packable pneumatic tube launch to vehicle borne systems. In April, the Corps submitted a request for information for a pneumatic launched suicide drone capable of two hours of flight that could potentially fly 60km. (Source: C4ISR & Networks)
23 Jul 18. Antonov and Air-Ion Partner on Electric UAVs. During the Farnborough Air Show 2018, on 17th of July, SE Antonov, Ukraine and AIR-ION TECHNOLOGIES SA, Switzerland signed a Memorandum of Understanding about the establishment of partnership in area of design, tests, certification and serial production of hybrid and full electric unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) based on versatile, flexible, multifunctional platform developed by AIR-ION TECHNOLOGIES SA for performing different civilian and military missions. Preliminary planned manufacturing of four types UAVs with maximum takeoff weight 1500kg, cruising speed 185km/h and altitude till 3000m. MOU is suggests several stages of cooperation, during first stage partners will conduct research of world technologies and market of electric UAVs applying as air taxi, and hybrid UAVs in other civil and military missions. SE Antonov will participate in design of the UAV body, manufacturing of prototypes, conducting of tests and in perspective creating of serial production line on Antonov’s site. According to the existing forecasts, world market of civil UAVs like full electric Air-Taxi, Boarder Guard, Logistics, Security, Natural Disaster and other missions the global market will rise from today’s $17.8bn USD in 2017 to $48.8bn USD in 2023 total market size during this period of over $215bn USD. Military Market volume is estimated to be over $133bn USD during the period 2017 till 2027. (Source: UAS VISION)
23 Jul 18. University of Cincinnati UTM Project Gets $1m Funding. A University of Cincinnati project to develop a new management system for unmanned aircrafts secured nearly $1m in federal grants last week. The Regional Unmanned Traffic Management System (RUTMS) was one of 33 projects submitted to the Ohio Federal Research Network, a state-funded organization that funds research and development initiatives at 11 Ohio colleges and universities. RUTMS is led by a research team at UC’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. It aims to develop RouteMaster – an air traffic management system that will allow drones and other unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to avoid each other mid-flight, even if those systems operate on different controls. Sinclair College, a longtime contributor to drone research, collaborated with UC on the project. Other partners include Springfield-based Demeter, Inc. and Simlat, an Israeli software company.
“The framework of the OFRN encouraged us to consider partnering, and we are stronger for it,” said professor Kelly Cohen, who co-directs UC’s UAV master lab, in an email. “We are extremely excited to work together to develop an innovative product towards commercialization.”
Projects were evaluated based on alignment to federal research needs, project feasibility, budget and cost share, potential economic impacts and team qualifications. Just 17 research teams were invited to submit a full proposal this round. Of those, UC was one of four institutions that split more than $6.3m in federal aid.
Other grant recipients include:
- Brushless Doubly-Fed Machine (BDFM) and Drive System – Ohio State University
- Autonomous/ Remote Piloted “Air Uber” System – Persistent Surveillance Systems, Dayton
- UAS Detect-and-Avoid Sensor Fusion – Ghostwave, Inc., Columbus
UC’s aerial research is also supported with grants from the National Science Foundation, Air Force Research Laboratory, NASA Ames and Langley, Ohio Department of Transportation and the Department of Homeland Security. (Source: UAS VISION/Cincinnati Business Courier)
23 Jul 18. Nesta’s Challenge Prize Centre, in partnership with Innovate UK, has today released its findings from the first phase of the Flying High programme, outlining the opportunities and challenges for implementing drone technology in UK cities. Flying High comprises a collaborative engagement with five UK city-regions chosen earlier this year (Bradford, London, Preston, Southampton and the West Midlands), along with the NHS, police and fire services, national stakeholders from central government, technology experts, industry leaders, academics and regulators. The challenge seeks to position the UK to become a global leader in shaping drone systems that place people’s needs first. The Flying High team worked closely with these different stakeholders to explore the current state and future ambitions for drones in urban environments in the UK. In partnership with the Flying High cities, five socially beneficial use cases were analysed to investigate their technical, social and economic implications. These are:
- Medical delivery within London – a drone delivery network for carrying urgent medical products between NHS facilities, which would routinely carry products such as pathology samples, blood products and equipment over relatively short distances between hospitals in a network
- Traffic incident response in the West Midlands – responding to traffic incidents in the West Midlands to support the emergency services prior to their arrival and while they are on-site, allowing them to allocate the right resources and respond more effectively
- Fire response in Bradford – emergency response drones for West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue service. Drones would provide high-quality information to support emergency call handlers and fire ground commanders, arriving on the scene faster than is currently possible and helping staff plan an appropriate response for the seriousness of the incident
- Construction and regeneration in Preston – drone services supporting construction work for urban projects. This would involve routine use of drones prior to and during construction, in order to survey sites and gather real-time information on the progress of works
- Medical delivery across the Solent – linking Southampton across the Solent to the Isle of Wight using a delivery drone. Drones could carry light payloads of up to a few kilos over distances of around 20 miles, with medical deliveries of products being a key benefit
The key findings from this phase of Flying High, which featured a number of work streams including public impact analysis, systems research, industry mapping and key stakeholder engagement, are outlined below:
- Drones can bring benefits to UK cities – cities are excited about the possibilities that drones can bring, particularly in terms of critical public services, but are also wary of tech-led buzz that can gloss over concerns of privacy, safety and nuisance. Cities want to seize the opportunity behind drones but do it in a way that responds to what their citizens demand.
Professor Tony Young, national clinical lead for Innovation at NHS England said: “We want to harness the massive potential of technology in the NHS to deliver improved patient care and the use of drones offers exciting possibilities. As the NHS develops its long term plan we will be looking at the use of technology now, tomorrow and into the future to ensure we can take advantage of all the benefits new innovations can bring.”
Deputy Chief Fire Officer Dave Walton from West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service said: “This project is about exploring possibilities and being forward thinking and we are pleased to have been asked to be a part of such innovative work. We already use drone technology at certain types of fires to give our Incident Commanders an aerial view of the extent of a fire or its exact positioning within a large building. Indeed, a drone has recently been used at moorland fires for exactly this purpose and this can greatly assist in decision making of how to best tackle a blaze. However, these trials look beyond this capability to see whether drones could assist the Fire Service even further – potentially even getting to a fire before fire crews are able to by road to live stream visuals back which would enable us to start planning our tactical response. Having this information would put our firefighters a step ahead and ultimately could save time which is of the essence when dealing with any emergency. It’s an exciting concept and whilst we can’t predict the future it’s prudent to be open minded to the possibilities. If we look back in time 50 years, firefighting equipment has evolved substantially, probably beyond what was thought imaginable at that time.”
- Public confidence is key – thanks to Flying High, cities are starting to think about what drones should and should not do, but so far the general public has played very little role. There is support for the use of drones for public benefit such as for the emergency services. In the first instance, the focus on drone development should be on publicly beneficial use cases.
- There are technical and regulatory challenges to scale – the five cities examined a wide array of tasks that drones can perform. In complex environments, flight beyond the operator’s visual line of sight, autonomy and precision flight are key, as is the development of an unmanned traffic management (UTM) system to safely manage airspace. In isolation these are close to being solved – but making these work at large scale in a complex urban environment is not. While there is demand for all of the use cases that were investigated, the economics of the different use cases vary: some bring clear cost savings; others bring broader social benefits. Alongside technological development, regulation needs to evolve to allow these use cases to operate. And infrastructure like communications networks and UTM systems will need to be built.
- A vision for the future – there is growing alignment between the key stakeholders – government, industry, regulators – on what the future of drones should look like in the UK. Prior to the Flying High project beginning, there was surprisingly little coordination between key players, and cities were largely absent from the discussion. This momentum needs to be kept up – and the public urgently need to be brought into discussions about the future of drones.
Andrew Tyrer, Challenge Director of Robots for a Safer World Challenge, (Innovate UK), said: “The five city projects under the Flying High Challenge are all excellent examples of the potential for drone technology to make a real difference to our everyday lives. This important report clearly sets out the challenges involved in delivering the vision for drone utilisation in city landscapes, and also points out the huge potential for UK companies and organisations to seize these exciting opportunities.”
Through industry mapping, engagement with national stakeholders and work with the five Flying High cities, there is clear evidence that drones are an opportunity for the UK- hundreds of companies already operate in the sector and can benefit from new business, UK universities have research strengths in the area and public authorities can save money or provide new and better services thanks to drones. However, the project has also identified a potential threat: UK policy responses to drones are behind those of leading countries. The US, EU and Singapore in particular, have taken bigger steps towards reforming regulations, creating testbeds and supporting businesses with innovative ideas.
Aviation Minister Liz Sugg, commented: “The Flying High project is a fantastic example of how much drones can help us in our daily lives. Drones have the potential to bring great social and economic benefits to the country and we want the UK to be a global leader in drone services. We have begun introducing a world class legal framework to ensure this exciting technology is used safely and responsibly to help the industry thrive.”
The key recommendation of this report is to organise major challenge prizes related to the five use cases that have been investigated. This process would drive innovation in the key technical barriers to drone development, while forming the core of a continued programme of public and political engagement. Brought together, this will allow the UK to position itself to take the lead in the development of drone technology, and therefore in the economic benefits- according to recent research from PwC, drone technology has the potential to increase UK GDP by £42bn (or 2%) by 2030. In addition to the challenge prizes, the report recommends that regulation be updated to reflect advances in drone technology, particularly around management of urban airspace; and investment in the infrastructure that drones will need if they are ever to operate at large scale.
Tris Dyson, Executive Director of the Challenge Prize Centre, explained: “The first step in Flying High has been to better understand what drones’ place in our skies might be, to find out what challenges lie in store, to assess the benefits to cities and the people who live in them, and to start a much-needed conversation to build a shared view of this future. What should come next is a plan that takes the vision of cities, public services and citizens and frames them as challenges to be actively solved.”
Jul 18. Two visionary entrepreneurs are creating a car that travels through the air, helping to boost the region’s hi-tech credentials along the way. It is the ultimate status symbol: the flying car that whisks you from your yacht to your country house. Sound like science fiction? Well, it’s set to become a reality thanks to two Derby-based visionaries. Daniel Hayes and Mike Smith say they are less than 18 months away from completing NeoXCraft – a working road vehicle that can take off vertically and land on water. With a price tag of £1.5m, the electric-powered NeoXCraft will be aimed at the time-poor, status-aware super-rich looking for a more convenient way to travel. The craft’s development is pushing the boundaries of engineering, and helping to cement the Midlands’ position as a global hi-tech hub. Like a Midland mini-version of the Apollo mission to the moon, Hayes and Smith have had to come up with new parts and techniques to get the project off the ground. Smith has even invented a super-conducting paste using graphene, the world’s toughest and lightest metal.
“We’ve had to invent lots of things, which says a lot about British innovation,” he says. “The good thing is, we have a great aviation heritage in this country and a lot of people have been willing to help.”
Smith and Hayes are developing the craft at iHub at Infinity Park Derby, close to aero engine giant Rolls-Royce’s global headquarters. They are being helped by engineering companies across the region and beyond. Their company, VRCO, is one of only a handful of businesses worldwide working on a flying car, with Uber in collaboration with Coventry University, McLaren and Airbus among the names giving it a go. There are also at least two flying cars currently in operation, but NeoXCraft will be more efficient and less cumbersome, say Smith and Hayes. Those rival flying cars are also unable to take off vertically, nor land on water. The NeoXCraft will cost £10 to £15 to recharge, giving it a one-hour travel time. At 470kg, it will also be lighter than other crafts on the market, and its lower noise will make it more acceptable to urban and exclusive environments. Smith previously worked with drones, while Hayes worked in technology for a Swiss bank and has run his own venture capital business.
“Because we’re not from the aviation industry, we haven’t been bound by those restrictions,” says Smith, VRCO’s chairman. “We’ve come at this from a no rules, no limits attitude. I like to be more practical, but that can be limiting. Dan is good at creative ideas, which have often led to design changes.”
They have recruited a team of advisers, including professor Paul Stewart of the University of Derby’s Institute of Innovation for Sustainable Engineering. It was Stewart who told them their dream could become a reality. His backing has brought credibility and helped recruit others. Another adviser is Graham Mulholland, ex-owner of Derby composites manufacturer EPM Technology, who has previously worked on innovative aircraft. An example of the complexities of developing advanced vehicles is highlighted by the fact they also have cybersecurity expert Mike Donoghue on board.
“The craft will be like a digital device – like a phone,” says Hayes. “We need to make sure all the information is as secure as possible.”
While working in Switzerland, Hayes was inspired by aviator Yves Rossy’s use of a wing suit and a jetpack to fly around mountains.
“I realised there’s enough power available in a concentrated form to fly a person,” says Hayes, VRCO’s chief executive. “I thought, what else can we do with that technology?” I’ve always had a passion for aircraft. My mum was an air hostess, my grandad was one of the founders of Nottingham Air Club and my gran did a wing walk.”
Hayes’ uncle, a senior operating captain for the airline Flybe, has given him advice on the practicalities of air travel. Smith and Hayes first met in 2016 through a mutual friend to discuss another project.
“In August 2016, I told Mike about my ideas. He didn’t laugh them off. ” he said, “you know what, that’s quite interesting’.”
The pair started researching how to make the craft, and realised most of the technology was out there and just needed bringing together.
“We looked at 20 to 30 variations before coming up with the design we decided to go ahead with. There were some pretty crazy sketches,” says Smith.
They approached Stewart just before Christmas 2016, who was sceptical. But, after doing research of his own during the holidays, Stewart realised it could be done.
“He went from ‘it will take off, but won’t do much’ to ‘it will need this type of battery and take this form’”, adds Hayes.
The design uses a wing shape through the centre section, making it aerodynamic. A cabin for two passengers is built into the wing, while the turbines used for vertical take-off rotate to become the aircraft engines and turn into wheels when in car mode. The plan is to produce six working craft for testing and certification by 2020. They also plan to create a non-working model over the summer to show to potential investors.
“Many people ask: ‘why would people choose this over a helicopter?’” says Hayes. “Firstly, it’s safer, with eight motors, eight propellers and a ballistic parachute. Helicopters also need to land on a helipad, or at least 12 metres diameter of space. The NeoXCraft will be able to land on tight spots and even yachts. It’s also much quieter and cheaper to run.”
The NeoXCraft will comply with the same aviation regulations as helicopters, adds Hayes. The pair need £10m to make the six prototypes, and are confident of securing it from various sources, including private investors and government grants. A successful application to the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) has already brought in £175,000. A big boost is the fact they qualify for an EIS (Enterprise Investment Scheme), meaning investors benefit from tax relief. Government agency Innovate UK is also helping to find funds. Total spending on the project so far is in the “high six figures”. We’re lucky to have early-stage support from some seed investors,” says Hayes.
The pair now need to convince more investors that the NeoXCraft will be the ultimate must-have vehicle for the wealthy.
“We know the technology will work because it’s worked on small racing drones, which can fly at between 80mph and 100 mph on very complex courses,” says Hayes. “We’ve taken the best-performing flight computers and know they’ll be able to cope with bigger-scale craft.”
They certainly have a lot to offer investors besides a fantastic vision. Not only have they created a graphene-based paste for sticking components to circuit boards, but have used it to create a powerful and super-efficient server to help provide the huge amounts of computer power they need in their workshop. They plan to make another two servers and sell one to a fellow iHub tenant.
“Using paste to stick components onto a circuit board was first introduced 20 years ago, but it needed updating,” says Smith. “We’ve put this paste onto our own computer and it works much more efficiently.”
There is a patent pending on the paste, says Smith, as well as other aspects of the NeoXCraft. There are also plans to eventually create a five-seat version. But for now, the focus is on getting the six craft built, with the emphasis on the aircraft part of the project.
“Our philosophy is, ‘let’s make it a high-performing aircraft, which can land on water and then convert to road mode’,” says Hayes. “It means we can have a multi-modal badge. What people describe as a ‘flying car’ is quite broad. It’s an electric vertical take-off and landing craft first of all. On top of that we’ll have the water and road-going capability.”
The hours necessary to make the project a reality means they need to recruit, and an intern was due to start in June. They hope to ultimately create a lot more jobs, both directly and in their supply chain.
“It’s not only a company creating an electric vertical take-off craft, it’s a showcase for UK innovation, which has practical benefits for the local economy,” adds Hayes. (Source: inside.media.com)
20 Jul 18. Tekever launches AR5 UAS. Portuguese company Tekever unveiled its AR5 unmanned aircraft system (UAS) at Farnborough International Airshow, and the launch included a live feed from operations in the Atlantic. In 2017 Tekever was awarded a contract to produce an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capability for the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), which was worth EUR77m (USD89.7m). EMSA UAVs carry out a range of functions including search and rescue, pollution monitoring, and detection of illegal activities such as smuggling and illegal fishing. The AR5 is a twin-engine fixed-wing UAS optimised for wide area maritime surveillance. The system appears to be capable and has obvious military applications. During the airshow the company was certainly marketing it towards military as well as civilian customers. Of note was Tekever’s model for providing capability. The company is able to offer a complete service, including maintenance, pilots, and operators. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
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