Sponsored by The British Robotics Seed Fund
14 Mar 19. Russian military to receive medium-range UCAVs in 2019. The Russian armed forces will commission medium-range unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) for the first time in 2019, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu announced during a session of the State Duma’s defence committee on 11 March. Shoigu noted that, since 2013, the Russian Army has equipped 38 units with more than 2,000 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The minister said that from 2019, the army would also receive medium-range attack and reconnaissance UAVs. Russia has considerably lagged behind the West, especially the US and Israel, in UAV technology in general and UCAVs in particular. None of the UAVs in service with the Russian armed forces have been reported to have a strike capability but various UAVs have been extensively employed for battlefield reconnaissance and fire-control tasks. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
14 Mar 19. A classified Pentagon maritime drone program is about to get its moment in the sun. A project birthed in the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office is getting some serious buy-in from the U.S. Navy, and could yield the world’s first large-scale armed unmanned warship. The Navy raised eyebrows in its budget rollout Tuesday when it requested $400m for two large unmanned surface vessels to be purchased in 2020, with 10 total to be purchased across the five-year projection known as the future year defense program. But it was not immediately clear what exactly the Navy was buying two of, since no program of record exists for a large unmanned surface vessel (or LUSV).
Navy officials now say the request is an outgrowth of SCO’s Project Overlord, which first surfaced in 2017 with a draft solicitation outlining a program that would take existing autonomy technologies and integrate them into large and medium unmanned surface vessels with some heady ambitions: an autonomous ship capable of carrying up to 40 tons of payloads, and operate in up to sea-state five independently for 90 days without a crew for maintenance, while following all rules of navigation and obstacle avoidance.
The elevation of SCO’s Overlord program from science project to fast-tracked acquisition reflects both the Navy’s growing confidence in its ability to make the technology work and the urgency it feels to field technologies that can combat a growing threat from anti-access area denial technologies designed to keep the Navy’s powerful strike arm far from the shores of potential adversaries.
It’s an effort the Navy is ready to put some significant investment into. In total, the service has programmed $2.7bn across the FYDP. And on Wednesday evening, the Navy dropped a request for information from industry seeking to “determine if sources exist that are capable of satisfying the Navy’s anticipated program requirement for Large Unmanned Surface Vessels (LUSV).”
The Navy’s top officer Adm. John Richardson said he wants the force to move aggressively on getting the LUSV to the fleet, and compared it to the unmanned aerial refueling drone, the MQ-25, one of his top priorities as chief of naval operations.
“I would liken this to the surface vessel version of where we picked up on MQ-25,” Richardson told a roundtable of reporters on Wednesday. “We are moving very aggressively to get something on deck in unmanned aviation, and we were able to do that very quickly by taking advantage of what we’d learned in that field to date, bringing industry in early, so we’re going to be using a lot of those practices.
“This seems like kind of the next natural step. We want to move it out of the skunkworks phase and into the operational phase as soon as possible.”
Richardson pointed to recent strides the service has made in the unmanned surface vehicle realm with the Sea Hunter program, which recently transferred from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to the Office of Naval Research, as evidence of the Navy’s progress toward fielding unmanned warships. The LUSV program, however, is a separate effort. The Navy announced in February that Sea Hunter navigated autonomously to Hawaii and back.
The Overlord program from which the Navy hopes to derive its new large unmanned robot warship is the child of the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office, a workshop under the auspices of the Office of the Secretary of Defense that seeks to add funky new capabilities to existing gear and weapons. The office’s big headline-grabbers to date have been its work on drone swarms and converting the Navy’s SM-6 anti-air missile into a very long range ship killer. But its work on autonomous surface vehicles has been less front-and-center. (Source: Defense News)
14 Mar 19. PSNS & IMF, Sarcos partner on robotic technologies. Sarcos Robotics has partnered with Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (PSNS) and Intermediate Maintenance Facility (IMF) to evaluate and deploy robotic technologies, including full-body, powered exoskeletons and man-portable inspection UGVs, for use in naval shipyards. Under the agreement, Sarcos and PSNS and IMF will evaluate Sarcos’ Guardian XO battery-powered full-body exoskeleton as well as its Guardian S inspection UGV for use across a wide variety of work environments.
The initial areas of focus under the partnership includes manipulation of heavy items, use of power tools and inspection of confined spaces within the context of the maintenance and modernisation of ships and submarines, with the objective of enhancing workplace safety and efficiency.
Sarcos’ Guardian XO is a full-body, powered industrial exoskeleton capable of enabling a human operator to safely lift and manipulate up to 200lb for an extended period. The Guardian S UGV aims to improve worker safety and enhance efficiency by providing remote inspection and surveillance capabilities in challenging environments. PSNS and IMF employs more than 14,000 sailors and civilian personnel who maintain, modernise and retire the US Navy’s fleet.(Source: Shephard)
13 Mar 19. Yuma Prepares Future Tactical Unmanned Aircraft. The U.S. Army said that Yuma Proving Ground’s aviation testers are preparing for an appearance of future tactical unmanned aircraft. Yuma Proving Ground (YPG) is a United States Army proving ground and one of the largest military installations in the world.
Secretary of the Army Dr. Mark Esper stressed that YPG’s role as independent arbiters of new materiel’s performance ensures that the Army gets value for its money.
“Yuma is also providing an important role in terms of being good stewards of the taxpayer’s dollars,” said Esper. “We invest a lot of money into modernizing our force and want to be sure we get what we pay for.”
The proving ground conducts tests on nearly every weapon in the ground combat arsenal. Nearly all the long-range artillery testing for U.S. ground forces takes place here in an area almost completely removed from urban encroachment and noise concerns.
Also, YPG averages 360 days of clear weather annually and boasts stable air that is perfect for aircraft testing.
Once here, airframe needs to prove its airworthiness once weapons systems and sensors are integrated into the platform. As such, YPG’s aviation testers are already preparing for the appearance of the Future Vertical Lift unmanned aircraft.
“It will have longer duration flight, higher altitudes, and more weapons capacity or payload capability,” said Ross Gwynn, Aviation Systems and Electronic Test Division chief. “One way or another, we will see a lot of work because of that initiative.”
A next-generation unmanned aircraft system is a part of U.S. Army’s ongoing Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program and designing to fly in formation with those future helicopters, operate autonomously or swarm enemy air defenses. (Source: UAS VISION/Defence Blog)
13 Mar 19. Uzbekistan Receives Ravens for Border Security. In an effort to secure and control key points of entry, the Uzbekistan Ministry of Defense thought that extra set of eyes could be the RQ-11B digital data link Raven – an unmanned aircraft system battled-tested by U.S. forces for the last decade. So they requested four of the systems through the Defense Security Cooperation Agency. The Security Assistance Command is DSCA’s executing agency for foreign military sales.
USASAC – the Army’s Face to the World – has delivered four Raven unmanned aircraft systems to Uzbekistan as part of a Total Package Approach foreign military sales case.
The $2.3m case includes the four Raven systems, maintenance support, training, publications, spare parts and technical support.
The RQ-11B DDL Raven, manufactured by AeroVironment Inc., in Simi Valley, California, is a small hand-launched remote-controlled system that can be used for surveillance and reconnaissance intelligence. Each Raven has a wingspan of 4.5 feet, is 3 feet long and weighs a little over 4 pounds.
Contractor-provided training Feb. 4-8 at the Florish training area, Uzbekistan, qualified eight members of the Uzbekistan Ministry of Defense on use of the system.
Over the four days of classroom instruction and hands-on training received, the students were shown aircraft and ground control station assembly/disassembly and preflight procedures in the field; vehicle operator and mission operator menu screens and functions that are new with the DDL system; takeoff and landing; Raven DDL malfunctions and emergency procedures; follow-me mode for mobile operations; and relay operations, in addition to handoff operations.
Uzbekistan, also known as the Republic of Uzbekistan, is located in Central Asia south and southeast of the Aral Sea. The country, slightly larger than California, is surrounded by Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
According to USASAC Country Program Manager Ted Kubista, the Ravens will add a critical capability for Uzbekistan to secure and control key points of entry by helping to interdict foreign fighters and narcotics. The U.S. State Department website states, “Uzbekistan is important to U.S. interests in ensuring stability, prosperity and security in the broader Central Asian region, and the U.S. has provided security assistance to the country to further these goals.”
Delivery of this system supports U.S. Army Central Command-Uzbekistan border security efforts. USASAC’s mission to build partner capacity means Uzbekistan can now perform surveillance functions through its Ministry of Defense. This supports U.S. strategic readiness by freeing up U.S. assets for other functions and promoting interoperability between the countries’ militaries.
Uzbekistan hosted this year’s Central and South Asia Defense Conference, and Gen. Joseph Votel, commander, U.S. Central Command, issued a statement on Feb. 22 regarding the importance of the country’s participation.
“As the first partner nation in Central Asia to join U.S. Central Command in hosting this conference, Uzbekistan is taking a vital role in advancing security and stability in Central and South Asia,” he said. “The United States is committed in developing and advancing our collaboration while looking for constructive ways to contribute to the stability and sovereignty of our partners in the region.” (Source: UAS VISION/Redstone Rocket)
13 Mar 19. Pentagon budget 2020: USN spending plan sets course for unmanned surface vehicles. The proposed US Navy (USN) fiscal year 2020 (FY 2020) budget kicks off the purchasing plan for the USN’s planned new fleet of unmanned surface vehicles (USVs), which is part of the new vision for the service highlighted relatively recently for Admiral John Richardson, the chief of naval operations (CNO). The FY 2020 spending plan includes USD446.8m to buy two USVs. The FY 2019 USN budget had included USD44.8m for the USV programme but no vehicles. The USN plans to buy two USVs per year, starting in FY 2020 and throughout the Future Years Defense Program, for a total of 10 during that time. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
12 Mar 19. White House wants to increase naval lethality with robots. Every White House budget is a wishlist. While Congress gets ultimate say, the presidential budget request is valuable, less than a statement of what will come, and more as a possible vision of what could be.
The Navy’s request for fiscal year 2020, part of which was released March 11, is driven by a quest for readiness and lethality, and one that could be executed mostly by continuing to purchase the same ships and weapons as before.
Only now there will be more robots.
“Unmanned” systems are mentioned six times in the White House’s summary of the Pentagon’s request, half of which are references to civil aviation. Now, flashier entry is that the Navy wants to purchase two large experimental unmanned surface ships, especially noteworthy after the early successes of the Sea Hunter. The Navy is so excited by the possibility of uncrewed vessels that it’s included them as an essential part of reaching its long-stated goal of a 355-ship navy.
In addition, the budget request “accelerates acquisition for several key systems, including Unmanned Undersea Vehicles.” Underwater is one of the most promising areas of autonomous machines to operate, both because of the stealth provided by traveling below the surface and because remote control at distance is much harder when communicating through water than over the air.
Autonomous underwater robots can fill a variety of roles, from ambient sensors to coastal scouts, and be produced at a size and scale that makes them far more ‘attritable’ than human-containing vessels. Some could even be deployed from peopled submarines, making robots as much an extension of existing capability as a unique category unto themselves.
There’s a hitch to all enthusiasm for robotics. Underwater machines, by nature of how they communicate, are more dependent on autonomy than surface, land, or aerial vehicles. Acquiring, managing, and safeguarding AI, especially the kind that will make decisions in the Navy’s underwater robots, is exactly the sort of task the Pentagon’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) was built for. Created in June 2018, JAIC’s initial budget of $89 m was set to more than quadruple to $414 m in FY 2020. The White House still plans to scale up JAIC, but requested only $208 m for 2020, barely more than half of what it initially planned. (Source: C4ISR & Networks)
13 Mar 19. CSIRO expands Australian robotics and autonomous systems R&D infrastructure. CSIRO’s Data61 has announced the launch of its new Robotics Innovation Centre in Queensland, a purpose-built facility for developing defence and civilian robotics and autonomous systems. Data61 is one of the global leaders in the field, with capabilities ranging from legged robots and 3D mapping through to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs).
One project being spearheaded by the centre is the testing of technology to rapidly map, navigate and search underground environments as part of a three-year Subterranean Challenge funded by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
Fred Pauling, robotics and autonomous systems group leader at CSIRO’s Data61, said the 600-square-metre facility would enhance the group’s world-class research capabilities.
“The new centre expands our research infrastructure to develop highly autonomous robotics systems that can interact safely and seamlessly with humans and other dynamic agents, in challenging indoor and outdoor environments,” Pauling said.
The centre houses the biggest motion capture system in the southern hemisphere, used to validate data collected by robotics systems. It also features a 13×5-metre pool for testing aquatic robots, a significant number of field-deployable UAVs and UGVs, legged robots, high-accuracy robot manipulators as well as sensors and telemetry systems.
Adrian Turner, CEO at CSIRO’s Data61, said the centre is a national asset that combines internationally recognised robotics and machine learning research with deep domain expertise from CSIRO, providing unique collaboration opportunities for industry, government and academia.
“By creating a cohesive approach to robotics R&D through closer collaboration, supported by world-class facilities like the Robotics Innovation Centre, we can ensure Australia is well placed to benefit from Industry 4.0 and help to protect and accelerate our nation’s ongoing economic success,” Turner explained.
Data61 led the formation of the Sixth Wave Alliance last year, a network which seeks to integrate key robotics research organisations and industry partners in Australia to enable a higher level of R&D collaboration. Dr Sue Keay was recently appointed to lead Data61’s cyber-physical systems research program, drawing on her experience in developing Australia’s first Robotics Roadmap while at QUT’s Australian Centre for Robotic Vision.
Data61’s robotics infrastructure is open for industry use and collaborative projects. This includes dedicated mechanical and electronics engineering laboratories, several high-end rapid prototyping machines, large sheds for indoors systems testing, an open-air UAV flying area and outdoor testing areas including a forest and creek. (Source: Defence Connect)
09 Mar 19. NAVAIR to Test Autonomous Cargo UAS Payload Requirement. The US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) plans to conduct an ‘Autonomous Cargo UAS (unmanned aerial system) Experiment’ to identify and evaluate proposed UAS systems’ ability to autonomously deliver payloads weighing up to 50 lb (23 kg) between ships and shore locations. NAVAIR has invited several companies to participate in the tests conducted by the command’s Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) to carry reduced payloads 50 n miles, starting 25 March, at Patuxent River, Maryland. Air vehicles will be assessed on their ability to autonomously launch from a shore location, navigate via two waypoints to a vessel making bare steerage (between 3and 5 kt) in open water up to 25 n miles away, loiter for 10 minutes, alight on the vessel, take off again without refuelling or recharging, and return to the original launch point. (Source: UAS VISION/IHS Jane’s)
11 Mar 19. USAF performs first autonomy flight test for TACE system. The US Air Force (USAF) 412th Test Wing’s Emerging Technologies (ET) Combined Test Force (CTF) has undertaken its first autonomy flight test. The test involved the use of an autonomous algorithm to command the aircraft without direct human intervention. During the three-day flight test, the team collected data on the Testing of Autonomy in Complex Environments (TACE) system, which is test middleware developed by Johns Hopkins University.
412th Test Wing ET CTF Autonomy lead captain Riley Livermore stated that the system sits between an autonomy / artificial intelligence computer and an aircraft’s autopilot. The TACE system is designed to monitor the commands being sent from the autonomy to the autopilot and then transmit the aircraft state information such as position, speed and orientation back to the autonomy.
Livermore said: “Today, we had an autonomous algorithm commanding the aircraft without any direct human involvement; we call it human on the loop, as opposed to most remotely piloted aircraft that are human in the loop.”
As part of the autonomy flight test, a Swift Radio Planes-developed Lynx small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS) was hand launched in the north part of Edwards Air Force Base, California.
The TACE payload can be used on different aircraft sizes for testing, according to Riley.
TACE performs two primary functions, ‘autonomy watchdog’ and ‘live-virtual-constructive’.
The second function enables interaction between simulated entities and live aircraft.
Livermore added: “If a safety-of-flight parameter is violated during an autonomously commanded manoeuvre, aka proximity to other test aircraft, flying out of an airspace boundary, or losing communications with the ground unit, then TACE will stop the commands from the autonomy and force it to remediate and loiter at a pre-determined safety location.”
“TACE controls what the autonomy computer sees and therefore can manipulate that information to allow for simulated entities to influence its decision making.
“For example, using TACE, a single live aircraft can fly in formation with a virtual wingman, with simulated sensors, flying in a simulated GPS-denied environment. The beautiful thing about TACE and LVC is that it can stress the autonomous algorithms without jeopardising the safety of flight.”
The flight test showcased the ability of TACE system onboard the Lynx sUAS to turn the aircraft around to its safety area when approaching a virtual border.
Additionally, the test proved the system’s capability to track a simulated vehicle on the ground without human commands.
Another autonomous flight test is set to take place in the coming weeks. Once the ET CTF completes the TACE flight testing, it will be able to declare autonomy test initial operational capability. (Source: airforce-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.