Sponsored by The British Robotics Seed Fund
04 Sep 18. Arquus trials unmanned 4×4 Dagger. French company Arquus has developed an unmanned version of its 4×4 Dagger light protected vehicle (LPV) using internal research and development funding. The vehicle was demonstrated at the Mouvement des Entreprises de France (MEDEF) Summer Seminar, which took place at the HEC Business School at Jouy-en-Josas in late August. MEDEF is essentially a think-tank and union of French company directors that aims to advance French business interests. The Dagger unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) is regarded by the company as a technology demonstrator with potential production vehicles being customised to meet the end users’ specific operational requirements. These include deployment by security or Special Forces operating in hazardous areas.
Arquus launched its robotisation programme in 2017, with the Dagger UGV being the first initiative under this effort. The vehicle was tested for the first time in May this year, although the company declined to disclose its details. The prototype UGV is currently operated using a hand-held controller but the eventual aim is to develop a fully autonomous vehicle. The baseline Dagger LPV is the export version of the Petit Véhicule Protégé (PVP), which was originally developed to meet the operational requirements of the French Army by the then-Panhard Defense.
The French Army took delivery of 1,113 PVPs while international customers include Chile, Romania, and Togo. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
28 Aug 18. ARQUUS, a hundred years of Defense innovation. ARQUUS will be presenting its autonomous DAGGER at the MEDEF’s Summer Seminar, as well as all the guidelines which define its policy on innovation. Expert in the fields of high mobility, protection and systems integration, ARQUUS keeps investing in developing high-end technologies. ARQUUS’ sustained efforts in the fields of R&D grants the company a special place in the ranks of all the Defense and Security industry companies. It also enables to constantly renew and improve its ranges to keep up with all operational doctrines and needs. ARQUUS’ focus on R&D feeds current works on the future of land forces, and aims at:
– Designing and improving reconnaissance, intelligence, logistics and contact vehicles;
– Developing and qualifying protection solutions against the evolutive threats of the battlefield;
– Integrating more and more complex tactical systems of communication, monitoring and command;
– Adapting and broadcasting fleet support solutions, thanks to hardened and innovative information technologies.
On the seminar’s innovation booth, ARQUUS will be presenting its video: Innovation is not an option but an obligation. François Deloumeau, R&D Director, will be showcasing the company’s researches, from system architecture to survivability in operations.
On its outdoors booth, ARQUUS will show its autonomous, remote-controlled, armored liaison vehicle: the DAGGER.
In 2017, ARQUUS showcased its ELECTER demonstrator, which illustrates the compatibility between hybrid technology and the use of reconnaissance medium armored vehicles.
14 Aug 18. Roboteam expands UGV portfolio. Roboteam took the opportunity at the Global EOD Symposium & Exhibition in Maryland to showcase its latest unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) range, which includes the new Light Interoperable Ground Robot (LIGR) and improved Reconnaissance and Surveillance Teamed Robot (RSTR). The LIGR builds on the knowledge and design of the company’s field-proven Micro Tactical Ground Robot (MTGR).
“While we kept the general MTGR concept, it’s a brand-new system – lighter, stronger, interoperable, and more reliable than any other back-packable ever made,” Shahar Abuhazira, CEO of Roboteam, told Jane’s on 14 August.
The base LIGR platform weighs 8.6 kg, with a laden weight of under 11.3kg, making it light enough to be carried by a soldier.
The company has also updated its RSTR “flying UGV” concept, which places an Individual Robotic Intelligence System (IRIS) throwable UGV inside a hexacopter, enabling users to deploy the vehicle from the air and recover it at the end of the mission.
The RSTR is fitted with the latest IRIS LR [long range] UGV. Abuhazira noted that this model features several improvements, including a Silvus mesh radio that offers extended communications range, an improved video camera, and a new battery providing more than 3.5 hours of run time.
“We are getting a lot of interest in it from the US military, and we have already sold several units,” Abuhazira said, noting that the RSTR is now in a production configuration.
“We see it as the best of both worlds, an aerial vehicle and a ground vehicle working together,” he added. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
08 Aug 18. UK’s army is testing Milrem Robotics’ unmanned ground vehicles in two programs. Milrem Robotics’ unmanned ground system THeMIS has advanced into next phases in two separate UK Army unmanned systems testing programs – the Autonomous Last Mile Resupply and the Army Warfighting Experiment. MIlrem Robotics’ UGV was selected as one of the winners in the Autonomous Last Mile Resupply competition as part of a team lead by QinetiQ. The aim of the program is to develop autonomous systems that distribute humanitarian relief to disaster areas and deliver combat supplies from the forward-most location (such as a physical base or a logistics/infantry vehicle) to personnel engaged in combat operations.
“Milrem Robotics is delighted to be in consortium with QinetiQ and work jointly on future robotic solutions,” said Kuldar Väärsi, CEO of Milrem Robotics. “Being selected to two separate UK Army programs demonstrates once again that Milrem’S THeMIS unique modular design is much appreciated and provides many advantages to the end user. The THeMIS is the most mature UGV in its size class on the European market and an excellent product for different upcoming programs,“ Mr. Väärsi added.
The UGV participating at the Last Mile Resupply is the TITAN that is a joint product developed together with QinetiQ. It features the THeMIS UGV and a control system developed by QinetiQ.
“QinetiQ is delighted that the TITAN robot – collaboratively developed with Milrem Robotics – is part of our offer for Phase 2 of Autonomous Last Mile Resupply. The proven mobility and payload of the TITAN vehicle make it the ideal recipient vehicle for advanced autonomous driving software that will enable our system to conduct resupply in the most challenging environments,” said Keith J. Mallon, Autonomy Campaign Manager in QinetiQ.
The aim of the Army Warfighting Experiment (AWE) is to identify how the Army can exploit developments in robotics and autonomous systems technology through focused analysis, capability integration and experimentation. Milrem Robotics participates in the experiment with a remote UAV carrier together with UAS developer Threod Systems. This solution features the THeMIS unmanned ground vehicle from Milrem and the multirotor drone KX-4 LE Titan. The system can be used for surveillance and as a communication relay since the UAV is able to ascend up to 80 meters. Because the drone is powered by the hybrid UGV it is able to stay up much longer than untethered systems. In addition, two Milrem Robotics’ UGVs will participate at AWE as part of QinetiQ. One of the UGVs will be equipped with a remote weapon system and be used for assault while the other is equipped with a surveillance mast with land radar and thermal and night vision cameras.
04 Aug 18. Estonian war robots could have big implications for future NATO plans. Estonia is building robots for war. And while they aren’t armed, the proposed design leaves plenty of room for a future where unmanned land combat becomes the norm in Europe. As announced Aug. 2, this new robot system will be a collaboration with Latvia and Finland, with possible participation from Germany, France and Belgium. To fund the robots, Estonia and its partners are looking for help from the European Defense Fund. In May, the European Parliament debated whether funding for collaborative defense projects should explicitly avoid lethal autonomous weapon systems, or if instead they should follow the softer guidelines of international law, which as of yet doesn’t govern robots designed to kill. As stated, the Estonia project is about maneuver, logistics, and situational awareness, not lethality. The press release from the Estonian Ministry of Defense is careful to couch the capabilities it wants in terms of support functions, sensors and carrying capacity, autonomy in service of movement not targeting. But regardless, the ground robots are coming to the battlefield, bristling with cameras, ready for the next stage of the war.
“An unmanned land vehicle, along with an autonomous control system, cyber defence solution and integrated network of sensors, will be developed within the framework of the project,” the Estonian Ministry of Defense says in the release. “The system’s initial functions are associated with improving situational awareness on the battlefield and raising the level of efficiency of the maneuvering and transportation capabilities of troops.”
Like the development of uncrewed flying vehicles before them, it is safe to expect uncrewed ground vehicles to start as an unarmed capacity. It makes sense for them to begin as sensor platforms that assist humans but don’t fire weapons of their own. But what if military planners decide that in the future, they will require an armed machine? At that point, it will be left to the engineers and oversight commissions to figure out the degree to which a human is involved in the process of lethal decision making. And it is worth noting that Estonia’s own military robot company, Milrem Robotics, already makes armed tracked unmanned vehicles. This includes target tracking systems but appear to still require human operators before firing.
Compounding this is the already-visible robotics projects of neighboring and nearby countries as well as a lack of international norms. In May, Russia claimed a successful demonstration of the armed and unmanned Uran-9 robot in Syria, though the results were not particularly impressive. Yet development of possibly armed autonomous machines continues apace, and it seems possible Russia will field multiple armed autonomous machines before there’s an international prohibition in place. Nearby Belarus, too, is testing armed robotic vehicles, suggesting this is not a one-country problem but an international one.
Then there is the matter of NATO. Estonia and Latvia are both formal members of the alliance, and Finland is a frequent NATO collaborator. The development of autonomous ground robots by nations that share a border, are skeptical of each other, and belong to competing military alliances is a situation that carries the risk of escalation the moment those robots are armed.
It is not hard to picture a scenario where rival armed robots, using autonomous targeting features, train weapons on each other in a defensive posture, and then through a misinterpretation of signal or erroneous sensor reading or simply faulty coding open fire. Even nations that have explicitly stated a refusal to employ lethal autonomous weapon systems, and nations that are on record about the strong importance of meaningful human control and human-in-the-loop safeguards, could find themselves drawn into a conflict because one robot didn’t like the way another robot looked at it.
These are questions that nations like the United States should be thinking about when it comes to allies developing autonomous systems. Greater autonomy among allies can lead to greater risk as actions taken with that autonomy pull allies into conflict, as defensive systems misfire and get interpreted as offensive acts. The robots may reduce the number of humans physically needed for operations or patrols, but the robots don’t reduce at all the need for human control and human oversight of those actions. It is in that greater context that Estonia, and Finland and Latvia, are looking at joining the race for autonomous uncrewed ground vehicles. Nothing within Estonia’s bid for robotic development suggests that the robots it builds will be armed, but it’d be short-sighted to only look at trends within its borders for what defensive needs the country may have. (Source: C4ISR & Networks)
03 Aug 18. These Baltic nations could build Europe’s next ground drone. As European Union nations look to step up their defense-industrial projects, a trio of states on the Baltic Sea are looking to make a breakthrough in unmanned ground systems. Estonia, Latvia and Finland are pushing to develop land-based drones under the EU’s Permanent Structure Cooperation framework, or PESCO, the nations announced Thursday. Between €30-40m (U.S. $35-47m) has been earmarked for use from the European Defence Fund to work on the project, while each of the three countries will contribute additional funds. The start date for the planned project is the first half of 2019. Launched in late 2017, PESCO seeks to help develop European-wide defense industries. Groups of nations can pitch the EU on different developments in order to secure initial funding from pooled resources. Although in its early stages, PESCO has been the topic of American concernover the potential of protectionist actions taken by the European defense market that could lock out American firms. EU nations are now looking to carve out market areas that could benefit their domestic defense-industrial bases, something acknowledged directly by Kusti Salm, director of the Estonian Defense Ministry’s Defence Investments Department.
“The same considerable growth that we saw with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) 10-15 years ago can be expected in the near future for unmanned land platforms,” Salm said in a statement. “The project’s ambition is, in cooperation with partners, to develop a solution for unmanned land systems, which would become the European standard.”
The list of partners on that project could grow if Germany, France and Belgium sign on; all three nations have expressed interest, the statement said. The system being considered appears to be designed as a semiautonomous companion for soldiers on the ground, which can reduce the load being carried and increase decision-making speed. In addition to an actual vehicle, the project would develop an autonomous control system, a cyber defense solution and an integrated network of sensors.
Ahead of the project, Estonia has started a research and development project, in cooperation with nine industrial partners, looking at how to raise the tactical level of unit combat capabilities for unmanned systems. Although unnamed, it is likely Estonian firm Milrem will be involved in the project. The company has spent several years marketing its THeMIS unmanned ground vehicle, which has capabilities in line with what was mentioned in the government statement. Salm noted that a “reliable system is not exclusively vehicle oriented. True innovation emerges from the autonomous control system, and integration with sensors and other manned and unmanned platforms.” (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Defense News)
The British Robotics Seed Fund is the first SEIS-qualifying investment fund specialising in UK-based robotics businesses. The focus of the fund is to deliver superior returns to investors by making targeted investments in a mixed basket of the most innovative and disruptive businesses that are exploiting the new generation of robotics technologies in defence and other sector applications.
Automation and robotisation are beginning to drive significant productivity improvements in the global economy heralding a new industrial revolution. The fund allows investors to benefit from this exciting opportunity, whilst also delivering the extremely attractive tax reliefs offered by the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS). For many private investors, the amount of specialist knowledge required to assess investments in robotics is not practical and hence investing through a fund structure makes good sense.
The fund appoints expert mentors to work with each investee company to further maximise the chance of success for investors. Further details are available on request.