Sponsored by The British Robotics Seed Fund
10 Jan 19. Hydrogen UAV with 5kg Payload Achieves 70 Min Flight. A project to develop a hydrogen fuel cell powered multi-rotor unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), has beaten its original test flight target of 60 minutes with a 5 kg payload, setting an exciting new benchmark for flight time and payload in the commercial UAV industry.
Project RACHEL, supported by Innovate UK, is led by venture engineering company Productiv on behalf of the UK’s leading UAV filming specialists BATCAM. The UAV is powered by fuel cells from Intelligent Energy, whose team has significant expertise and a proven track record in producing some of the world’s lightest and most power-dense fuel cell stacks for commercial UAVs.
The initial target of the project was to achieve 60 minutes of continuous flight while carrying a 5 kg payload. The Lithium Polymer battery powered UAVs flown by BATCAM allow around 12 minutes of useable flight. The recent test of the purpose-built fuel cell powered UAV saw it fly for an uninterrupted 70 minutes carrying a 5 kg payload. This was achieved on a UAV with below 20 kg maximum take-off mass, using a 6-litre cylinder containing hydrogen gas compressed to 300 bar.
“This innovation opens up new opportunities for commercial UAV operators.” Jonathan Reed, Productiv
The project will complete early in 2019 with BATCAM carrying out real-world end-user trials. Successful completion of the project will bring major benefits for those involved in commercial UAV usage, in sectors such as mining, agriculture, surveying and monitoring, security, and emergency services.
Intelligent Energy has completed the integration work and BATCAM has advised on design requirements, project targets and has piloted the test flights. In addition, Intelligent Energy is commissioning and trialling a user-friendly, cost-effective, portable refuelling solution from NanoSUN, a specialist supplier of hydrogen fuel systems.
Productiv’s role includes programme management, business model planning, design for manufacture and supply chain optimisation, with the aim of having all components sourced within the UK.
Jonathan Reed of Productiv commented:
“The effectiveness of UAVs is limited by their flight time and payload capacity. This innovation opens up new opportunities for commercial UAV operators.
“Operators need longer flight times than can be delivered with batteries and are therefore seeking alternative power sources with higher power density. Hydrogen power has huge potential here, and we anticipate a significant growth in the market for hydrogen-powered UAVs in the next few years.”
Jon Hurndall, CEO of BATCAM, commented, “I congratulate all partners on this fantastic achievement. It is great to see product innovation and continued development with hydrogen fuel cells for UAVs – these represent a viable alternative to Lithium Polymer batteries which are not only difficult and costly to transport internationally but largely inefficient in comparison to hydrogen. A 60-minute-plus flight time with a large payload creates many opportunities, not only with our existing broadcast clients but in other commercial markets and sectors. We are eager to explore these opportunities in 2019.”
David Woolhouse, CEO at Intelligent Energy, said, “Here at Intelligent Energy we are committed to helping our UAV customers solve the problem of flight time. We welcome this Innovate UK funded project as it further embeds the integration of fuel cell technology for the benefit of the industry.
“The advantages of fuel cells over batteries for our customers are clear; fast refuel, no vibration, quiet operation, zero emission at point of use and three times more flight time than batteries. Fuel cells are a game-changer for the commercial UAV market. (Source: UAS VISION)
07 Jan 19. US Navy Throws Veil of Secrecy over New Unmanned Warship. The status of the Navy’s first unmanned warship, known as the Sea Hunter, is now classified information, a service official told National Defense Jan. 4. The Sea Hunter, at 132-feet long and 140 tons, is categorized as a “medium displacement unmanned surface vehicle.” The ship was transitioned from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, better known as DARPA, to the Office of Naval Research in February 2018. The first prototype of the Sea Hunter was tested outside of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in November 2018, according to a Stars and Stripes report. The demonstrations were intended to test the ship’s endurance, range capabilities and establish “operator trust in safe reliable operations via rigorous at-sea testing, modeling and simulation,” Lt. Cmdr. Tim Gorman, a U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesperson said in a statement, according to the outlet. Following a recent inquiry from National Defense about the platform, Bob Freeman, an ONR spokesman, said the vessel’s status has now been given a classified designation and declined to comment further. The Sea Hunter, which was christened in April 2016, in Portland, Oregon, is part of a larger plan from the Navy to develop more unmanned undersea and surface vessels that can operate without putting sailors at risk, and could be more cost effective than manned platforms.
A wide range of unmanned vessels are in the works, littoral combat ship Program Executive Officer Rear Adm. John Neagley said during a presentation at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International conference in National Harbor, Maryland, in March 2018. His office has since been renamed PEO unmanned and small combatants.
“Those capabilities will be delivered over the next couple years and start to get into our procurements in ‘18 and ‘19 and really start hitting the fleet,” he said. (Source: glstrade.com/National Defense)
08 Jan 19. This robot rumbles through tunnels too unsafe for people. To be useful to humans, legged robots must navigate the world much as humans do. In fall 2018, a four-legged robot named ANYmal explored the tunnels below Zurich, Switzerland in a test for what could be the future of maintenance work.
ANYmal, the creation of Switzerland-based ANYbotics and the ETH Zurich Robotic Systems Lab, resembles the BigDog family of robots, its distant North American cousins. Like the Boston Dynamics creations, ANYmal is bouncing mess of limbs that results in a sort of unsettling gait. Special actuators and gait-balancing software enable the whole production, and if need be, a limb can rotate a 360 degrees. This creates the combined effect of turning bouncy legs under the torso into long spindly legs extending outward from it.
With a speed of around 2 mph, ANymal isn’t winning any races, but it has endurance. Its battery holds power for three hours and the robot can lower itself onto a charging station when it needs to power up. Weighing 66 pounds, ANYmal isn’t light, but could be carried into place on a small vehicle or by a couple of people. Its limbs can push buttons and push open doors, though it would likely take extra modifications to get an ANYmal to manipulate doorknobs.
For the tunnel exploration, the 20-inch tall robot was lowered into place, and then guided by a joystick. Autonomous movement is possible, but using a remote control allowed the human observers to keep a closer eye on what, exactly, the machine was doing underground. The robot normally navigates by LIDAR and 3D mapping of the surrounding environment. To better comprehend the terrain in low-light environments, it is also exploring haptic sensors at the end of its feet, providing a sense of touch. All of this could prove critical as some U.S. Army leaders believe future wars will take place underground and in tunnels.
ANYmal’s current projects include tunnel exploration and oil platform inspections. For the military observer, the existence of ANYmal offers three worthwhile trends. First, dog-shaped robots are going to evolve as industrial tools, and in all the areas that industrial work overlaps with military functioning, like base maintenance or ship inspections, there is likely an easy role for these robots to take on. Second, as military forces move in human-built environments they should consider the possibility that remote or autonomous machines, legged as well as winged, could also be traversing in the same way. Finally, enterprising commanders looking to incorporate robots as military scouts or even armed tools should be paying close attention to what’s being developed in the commercial world, since adversaries without dedicated national budgets are likely looking in the same places. (Source: C4ISR & Networks)
08 Jan 19. France conducts low visibility tests of Neuron UCAV demonstrator. The Neuron unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) demonstrator began its fourth low observability test campaign in November, the Direction générale de l’armement (DGA), the French defence procurement agency, announced on its website on 4 January. The DGA said it is conducting the campaign along with Dassault Aviation from the agency’s flight testing facility at Istres airbase against various operational detection equipment.
The fourth low observability campaign aims to study the employment of aircraft like Neuron against airborne sensors, ground radars, and shipborne systems. The DGA said the campaign will enable it to evaluate ongoing developments in detection equipment. It will also enable armed forces to evaluate their capability to detect stealthy unmanned aerial vehicles representing future threats, the agency added.
On 17 December, a detachment from the Centro Logístico de Armamento y Experimentación (CLAEX), Spain’s Armaments and Experimentation Logistics Centre, with two Eurofighter Typhoons from the Spanish Air Force’s 11 Wing in Morón, confronted Neuron. CLAEX said on its website on 28 December that this allowed the evaluation of the Neuron’s detectability by Eurofighter sensors such as the Infrared Search and Track (IRST) and IRIS-T missile. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
08 Jan 19. US Coast Guard Picks ScanEagle for National Security Cutter Programme. The US Coast Guard (USCG) has again selected Insitu and its ScanEagle for the Small Unmanned Aerial System (SUAS) for National Security Cutter (NSC) programme, this time as part of corrective action from its original contract award. Insitu spokesperson Jennifer Beloy said on 31 December 2018 that the company was notified the week of 24 December. Lieutenant Commander Jeff Sullens, deputy programme manager for SUAS for NSC, told Jane’s on 3 January 2019 that the coastguard informed bidders of its selection, but that he could not confirm the winner. He added that a formal contract has not been awarded and that he could not provide contract details owing to the federal government shutdown impacting the USCG.
Lt Cdr Sullens said he was not aware of any protests for this SUAS for NSC corrective action. Expected bidder Textron Systems declined to comment on 3 January as to whether it bid for the programme or planned to protest. The company has a similar SUAS capability called Aerosonde. Arcturus UAV, also a potential bidder, said on 3 January that no one was available to answer questions.
The USCG in June awarded Insitu, a division of Boeing, a contract potentially worth USD117m for SUAS for NSC, which covers installation and deployment of the vehicle for roughly 200 hours per 30-day operational patrol period. Under this award, ScanEagle was to provide intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) services for the entire NSC fleet. (Source: UAS VISION/Jane’s 360)
07 Jan 19. Chilean Hermes 900 breaks cover during firefighting operations. Chile has showcased the Elbit Systems Hermes 900 medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that it acquired from Israel in 2011 for the first time. A single Hermes 900 MALE UAV was shown on static display at Quintero Air Base in the Valparaíso region of the South American country in early January, as the Chilean Air Force (Fuerza Aérea de Chile: FACh) highlighted the roles of several of its aircraft in fighting recent wildfires. In May 2011 Chile became the first export customer for the Hermes 900 when it ordered three on an unknown delivery timetable. These were confirmed operational during 2014 by the FACh in reconnaissance and surveillance support roles over land and coastal areas. According to local sources, Chile hopes to ultimately procure between six and nine Hermes 900s, depending on upcoming budget priorities, to equip reconnaissance platoons operating in support of the mechanised infantry components of reinforced brigades. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
07 Jan 19. China’s New Flying Saucer-Like Stealth Drone Seen In First Public Flight. A video featuring China’s flying saucer-like stealth drone, the Sky Hawk, was shown for the first time on China Central Television (CCTV) on Saturday, with leading military experts saying the technologies mastered by Chinese developers will allow the drone to fly faster, farther and avoid detection. Independently developed by China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation, the Sky Hawk conducted a test flight at an undisclosed location in China, the CCTV report said. The video showed the drone taking off and landing, marking the first time that the aircraft has been publicly seen in flight. The drone reportedly first flew in February, but no video was available before Saturday’s broadcast. It was on display at Airshow China 2018 in Zhuhai, South China’s Guangdong Province in November but was never flown there. The step-by-step revelations mean the drone is being developed and manufactured on schedule, and that China considers the drone feasible, Song Zhongping, a military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times on Sunday. Featuring a “flying wing” aerodynamic design similar to the US B-2 stealth bomber, the Sky Hawk is a high-altitude, long-range and high-speed unmanned aerial vehicle capable of conducting reconnaissance and patrol missions in hostile environments, CCTV reported. Controlling an aircraft with a “flying wing” design is much more difficult than controlling an aircraft with conventional design, Song noted. A turbofan engine on a flying wing aircraft allows it to fly much faster and farther compared with traditional turboprop or piston engine aircraft, he said.
Another Chinese stealth drone with a “flying wing” design, the CH-7, developed by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, was also on display at the air show. Its 22-meter wingspan makes it significantly larger than the Sky Hawk, providing another choice for domestic and international users. The US has developed the X-47B stealth drone and run tests on aircraft carriers. Although the US project was suspended in favor of a stealth tanker drone, the US still has the edge in related technologies, Song said.
The Sky Hawk will also operate on China’s future aircraft carriers that will use electromagnetic catapults, said a military expert who requested anonymity. Electromagnetic catapults can launch a wide variety of aircraft, and since the Sky Hawk is smaller than the CH-7, it will be easier to use on an aircraft carrier, the expert told the Global Times. China’s new strategic bomber, the H-20, is expected to also use a “flying wing” aerodynamic design to gain stealth capability and other benefits. (Source: defense-aerospace.com/Global Times)
07 Jan 19. Aquabotix signs US Navy contract to support SwarmDiver development. Underwater robotics company UUV Aquabotix has secured a contract to support a US Navy project that involves further development of the company’s SwarmDiver product. The contract is valued at $70,000 and will support the initial development project that will conclude with testing and demonstration to US Navy personnel. In April last year, the company commercially launched SwarmDiver, a micro unmanned surface vehicle (USV) and unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) that can operate in large numbers as a collective.
Aquabotix CEO Whitney Million said: “This is a second project involving SwarmDiver and the US Navy in the last seven months. SwarmDiver can be used broadly, in numerous mission types. This development contract will provide greater flexibility in the systems’ use while maintaining the benefits of conducting an unmanned mission. Aquabotix is excited to once again be afforded the opportunity to support the US Navy while expanding its own capabilities.”
Multiple SwarmDivers can be deployed simultaneously as a single coordinated group to gather valuable intelligence. The vehicles can perform dives to a depth of 50m and can be controlled by one human operator on the surface.
Weighing around 1.7kg and spanning 75cm in length, SwarmDiver offers vertical dive capabilities and can operate as both a UUV and a USV. In addition, the vehicle provides wireless data feedback upon surfacing and allows for sustained surf zone operations. In June last year, Aquabotix signed a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) with the US Navy for testing and demonstrating the SwarmDiver micro USV. Under the agreement, the company will have access to the Naval Undersea Warfare Center’s (NUWC) Narragansett Bay Test Facility, including its testing ranges and personnel.
Aquabotix has operations in Sydney, Australia, and Fall River, Massachusetts, US. The company manufactures and sells commercial and industrial-grade underwater drones for commercial and military applications. (Source: naval-technology.com)
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.