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UNMANNED SYSTEMS UPDATE

Sponsored by The British Robotics Seed Fund

http: www.britbots.com/fund

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04 June 19. DZYNE Technologies develops electric whole-wing VTOL aircraft. DZYNE Technologies has developed an electric vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that uses a whole wing as a rotor that does not compromise forward flight performance when transitioned to fixed-wing mode. The aircraft, called ROTORwing, is designed to optimise hovering and forward flight. For takeoff, the ROTORwing has one wing facing forward and the other tilted approximately 180° back to face in the opposite direction. This allows the wing to spin, similar to a rotor when power is applied.

When the rotor revolutions-per-minute (RPM) goal is reached, the aircraft can be commanded to hover using the full wing/rotor for lift. A small tail-rotor is used for aircraft fuselage pointing. Thus, a large tail-rotor is not needed to cancel engine torque as it would in a helicopter because there is no torque reaction to the fuselage.

The ROTORwing’s rotor is propelled directly by the motors on the wings, eliminating the need for heavy and complex gearboxes, swashplates, and high-power tail rotors, according to the company. At a safe altitude, the wings are quickly tilted upward to arrest the rotor spin. The rotor then locks into position with both wings tilted so the engine faces forward. This allows the aircraft to fly similarly to a conventional fixed-wing UAV.

For vertical landing, the process is reversed. The transition process from hover to forward flight, as well as forward flight back to hover, only takes a few seconds with minimal altitude drop. The detachable cargo pod is capable of carrying various payloads and is easily removed to optimise the aircraft for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR)-based mission profiles. The ROTORwing’s technology is scalable from the current lightweight Group 1 to much larger Group 5 systems. (Source: IHS Jane’s)

05 June 19. Jordan Sells Off Chinese UAVs. The Royal Jordanian Air Force (RJAF) has put its Chinese-made armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) up for sale, indicating its disappointment with their performance. In a notice posted on its website on 3 June, the RJAF said it was looking to sell six CH-4B UAVs, a type made by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). The RJAF acquired the type in 2016 along with AR-1 laser-guided missiles and FT-9 guided bombs. The Jordanian aircraft are capable of operating beyond line of sight as they are fitted with satellite communications equipment.

The RJAF declines to explain specific issues with aircraft or sale prices, says Colonel Ayman Al Habahbeh, chief of aircraft supply branch.

“We are selling these platforms to meet our plans in restructuring our air force and downsizing it to be more effective, and have a common configuration of platforms that can be more-easily sustained,” he says.

In total, the Jordanian armed forces are advertising 29 aircraft for sale: two Airbus C-295 transport aircraft; two CASA/IPTN CN-235 transport aircraft; one Lockheed C-130B transport aircraft; 12 BAE Systems Hawk jet trainers; six CH-4B UAVs; and six MD Helicopters MD 530 light helicopters. Many of the aircraft are well worn. For example, its six MD 530 helicopters have an average age of nearly 31 years, according to Cirium’s Fleets Analyzer. However, its six CH-4B UAVs were reportedly delivered about two years ago. The RCAF told Shepard Media in November 2018 it was not happy with the aircraft’s performance and was looking to retire them.  (Source: UAS VISION/Jane’s 360)

04 June 19. IAI Unveils the T-Heron Tactical UAV. At the upcoming Paris Air Show, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) will unveil the new tactical Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) of the Heron Family: the T-Heron. Designed for tactical missions on the battlefield, the T-Heron is expected to be used extensively by ground troops and coastal guards, as well as by other protection forces. With a versatile design and suitable for a variety of payloads, it features the most advanced IAI technologies.

The T-Heron joins IAI’s Heron UAS Family, which boasts rich know-how and extensive experience of over 40 years, over 1,700,000 combat flight hours and over 50 operational customers, which use IAI UAS’s in a range of missions, environmental conditions and warfare theatres across the globe.

The T-heron features one of the highest levels of flight safety and reliability and is resistant to extreme weather conditions. It’s advanced, certified and proven Rotax engine takes it to a maximum altitude of 24,000 feet, speed of 120 knots and supports useful payloads of up to 180 kg. Capable of carrying several payloads concurrently, and equipped with IAI’s best sensors, the T-Heron complies with global standards, including STANAG 4671 requirements.

Moshe Levy, IAI EVP and CEO of the Military Aircraft Division, said, “We are proud to introduce the most recent UAS developed by IAI. Our T-Heron tactical UAS rounds up the range of operational UAS solutions IAI offers to all forces on the battlefield: marine, air, ground, and intelligence. IAI preserves its leadership position in UAS’s with a continuous stream of solutions for the challenges posed by the field.” (Source: UAS VISION)

04 June 19. PULP Dronet – Nano-UAV Inspired by Insects. Researchers at ETH Zürich and the University of Bologna have recently created PULP Dronet, a 27-gram nano-size unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) with a deep learning-based visual navigation engine. Their mini-drone, presented in a paper pre-published on arXiv, can run aboard an end-to-end, closed-loop visual pipeline for autonomous navigation powered by a state-of-the-art deep learning algorithm.

“It is now six years that ETH Zürich and the University of Bologna are fully engaged in a joint-effort project: the parallel ultra-low power platform (PULP),” Daniele Palossi, Francesco Conti and Prof. Luca Benini, the three researchers who carried out the study, who work at a lab led by Prof. Benini, told TechXplore via email. “Our mission is to develop an open source, highly scalable hardware and software platform to enable energy-efficient computation where the power envelope is of only a few milliwatts, such as sensor nodes for the Internet of Things and miniature robots such as nano-drones of a few tens of grams in weight.”

In large and average-size drones, the available power budget and payload enables the exploitation of high-end powerful computational devices, such as those developed by Intel, Nvidia, Qualcomm, etc. These devices are not a feasible option for miniature robots, which are limited by their size and consequent power restrictions. To overcome these limitations, the team decided to take inspiration from nature, specifically from insects.

“In nature, tiny flying animals such as insects can perform very complex tasks while consuming only a tiny amount of energy in sensing the environment and thinking,” Palossi, Conti and Benini explained. “We wanted to exploit our energy-efficient computing technology to essentially replicate this feature.”

To replicate the energy-saving mechanisms observed in insects, the researchers initially worked on integrating high-level artificial intelligence in the ultra-tiny power envelope of a nano-drone. This proved quite challenging, as they had to meet its energy constraints and stringent real-time computational requirements. The key goal of the researchers was to achieve very high-performance with very little power.

“Our visual navigation engine is composed of a hardware and a software soul,” Palossi, Conti and Benini said. “The former is embodied by the parallel, ultra-low power paradigm, and the former by a the DroNet Convolutional Neural Network (CNN), previously developed by the Robotics and Perception Group from the University of Zürich for ‘resource-unconstrained’ big drones, that we adapted to meet energy and performance requirements.”

The navigation system takes a camera frame and processes it with a state-of-the-art CNN. Subsequently, it decides how to correct the drone’s attitude so that it is positioned in the center of the current scene. The same CNN also identifies obstacles, stopping the drone if it senses an imminent threat.

“Basically, our PULP Dronet can follow a street lane (or something that resembles it, e.g. a corridor), avoiding collisions and braking in case of unexpected obstacles,” the researchers said. “The real leap provided by our system compared to past pocket-sized flying robots is that all operations necessary to achieve autonomous navigation are executed directly onboard, without any need of a human operator, nor ad-hoc infrastructure (e.g. external cameras or signals) and in particular, without any remote base station used for the computation (e.g., remote laptop).”

In a series of field experiments, the researchers demonstrated that their system is highly responsive and can prevent collisions with unexpected dynamic obstacles up to a flight speed of 1.5 m/s. They also found that their visual navigation engine is capable of fully autonomous indoor navigation on a 113m previously unseen path.

The study carried out by Palossi and his colleagues introduces an effective method that integrates an unprecedented level of intelligence in devices with very strict power constraints. This is in itself quite impressive, as enabling autonomous navigation in a pocket-size drone is extremely challenging and has rarely been achieved before.

“In contrast to a traditional embedded edge node, here, we are constrained not only by the available energy and power budget to perform the calculation, but we are also subject to a performance constraint,” the researchers explained. “In other words, if the CNN ran too slowly, the drone would not be able to react in time, preventing a collision or turning at the right moment.”

The tiny drone developed by Palossi and his colleagues could have numerous immediate applications. For instance, a swarm of PULP-Dronets could help to inspect collapsed buildings after an earthquake, reaching places that are inaccessible to human rescuers in shorter periods of times, thus without putting the lives of operators at risk.

“Every scenario where people would benefit from a small, agile, and intelligent computational node is now closer, spanning from animal protection to elderly/child assistance, inspection of crops and vineyards, exploration of dangerous areas, rescue missions and many more,” the researchers said. “We hope our research will improve the quality of life of everyone.”

According to Palossi and his colleagues, their recent study is merely a first step towards enabling truly ‘biological-level’ onboard intelligence and there are still several challenges to overcome. In their future work, they plan to address some of these challenges by improving the reliability and intelligence of the onboard navigation engine; targeting new sensors, more sophisticated capabilities and better performance-per-watt. The researchers publicly released all their code, datasets and training networks, which could also inspire other research teams to develop similar systems based on their technology.

“In the long run, our goal is to achieve results similar to what we presented here on a pico-size flying robot (a few grams in weight, with the dimension of a dragonfly),” the researchers added. “We believe that creating a strong and solid community of researchers and enthusiasts hinged on our vision will be fundamental to reach this ultimate goal. For this reason, we made all our code and hardware designs available as open-source for everyone.”  (Source: UAS VISION/Tech Xplore)

03 June 19. U.S. to sell 34 surveillance drones to allies in South China Sea region. The Trump administration has moved ahead with a surveillance drone sale to four U.S. allies in the South China Sea region as acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said Washington will no longer “tiptoe” around Chinese behaviour in Asia.

The drones would afford greater intelligence gathering capabilities potentially curbing Chinese activity in the region.

Shanahan did not directly name China when making accusations of “actors” destabilising the region in a speech at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on Saturday but went on to say the United States would not ignore Chinese behaviour.

The Pentagon announced on Friday it would sell 34 ScanEagle drones, made by Boeing Co. to the governments of Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam for a total of $47m (37m pounds).

China claims almost all of the strategic South China Sea and frequently lambastes the United States and its allies over naval operations near Chinese-occupied islands. Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have competing claims.

The Pentagon said Friday’s sales included spare and repair parts, support equipment, tools, training and technical services and work on the equipment was expected to be completed by March 2022.

As many as 12 unarmed drones and equipment would go to Malaysia for about $19m. Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country would buy eight drones, the Philippines eight, and Vietnam six.

In 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration rolled out a long-awaited overhaul of U.S. arms export policy aimed at expanding sales to allies, saying it would bolster the American defence industry and create jobs at home.

That initiative eased rules for exporting some types of lethal as well as non-lethal U.S.-made drones to potentially dozens more allies and partners. There is no armed version of the ScanEagle, but Insitu, the division of Boeing that makes the drone, also makes the RQ-21A Blackjack which is an optionally armed drone used by U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. (Source: Reuters)

02 June 19. FLIR Systems explores greater synergies within unmanned systems portfolio. FLIR Systems is using its recent acquisitions of companies in the unmanned space to develop a range of new concepts, including the deployment of nano unmanned aerial systems (UASs) from larger platforms, the company has told Jane’s.

The sensor specialist acquired Prox Dynamics – manufacturer of the Black Hornet nano-UAS – in November 2016. It has expanded its acquisitions this year, acquiring UAS manufacturer Aeryon Labs and unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) provider Endeavor Robotics.

The company is using the synergies between these companies – and its own areas of expertise – to pursue various new technologies and concepts, said David Ray, president of FLIR Systems’ Government & Defense unit. For example, it is exploring the potential of deploying Black Hornet nano-UASs from Aeryon’s SkyRanger UAS, as well as from UGVs produced by Endeavor.

Additionally, FLIR is developing a common control and communications architecture to enable its various unmanned platforms to more easily interact with each other, Ray said, “so no matter where information is coming from, it can be delivered via a common operational picture”.

This will also be made available to FLIR customers who operate other unmanned assets, Ray added. It could have potential in manned/unmanned teaming, where the costs of such technology can be high, he said.

Aeryon and Endeavor were already FLIR customers before the acquisitions, using the company’s cameras and other systems. These existing relationships meant the companies already had a good idea of various areas for collaboration and innovation, he noted.

Ray said FLIR is also looking to leverage the work of its industrial arm in autonomous driving into military UGVs. This is particularly relevant when it comes to artificial intelligence (AI), he said, with the company keen to exploit the software and analytics capabilities it is developing for self-driving cars “back into military applications through our UGVs and the command and control systems we use to drive them”.(Source: IHS Jane’s)

02 June 19. Belarus rolls out Berkut-3 UAV. Minsk-based company AGAT-Sistemi Upravlenia (AGAT Control Systems), a subsidiary of the state-owned Geoinformation Control Systems Holding, is finalising development of a Group 1-class unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) called the Berkut-3.

Unlike earlier UAVs produced by AGAT Control Systems, the Berkut-3 and its critical equipment – such as navigation systems and batteries – is manufactured in-house. The Berkut-3 adopts an all-composite tailless flying wing design featuring wingtip devices. The UAV has a wingspan of 3m and a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) 11kg, and has the ability to carry a 2kg payload. It can be assembled within 10 minutes and launched and recovered via a catapult and a parachute respectively.

A typical Berkut-3 system comprises a UAV and a set of modular payloads – including a digital still camera, infrared camera, or TV camera – ground control station (GCS), datalink, and ruggedised storage container.

The UAV is powered by four Li-ion batteries and features a nose-mounted electric motor with a tractor propeller that enables it to attain level flight speeds of 65 to 120km/h. The company claims that it has incorporated an advanced power management and battery conditioning system, which works in concert with a multi-channel voltage divider to provide run times of up to three hours.

According to company specifications, the Berkut-3 offers a control radius of more than 50km and can operate to a service ceiling of 13,123ft (4,000m). The air vehicle is equipped with a combined inertial navigation system (INS) and GPS/GLONASS satellite navigation receiver, which offers positioning accuracy of 50 m. It can also operate in wind conditions of up to 10m/s, and in temperatures from -40°C o 40°C in moderate rain and snow. (Source: IHS Jane’s)

02 June 19. Thai government agencies link efforts to stimulate the domestic UAS industry. The Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) and the Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (GISTDA) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to collaborate on providing loans to domestic manufacturers for the development of the Thai aerospace industry, including the drone sector.

In Thailand there has been great enthusiasm from Thai entrepreneurs and existing service companies to deploy drone technology, whether home-grown or imported, to perform missions within Thai airspace.  However, since the 2015 drone law passed by the Ministry of Transport, most practical commercial drone activities have been effectively rendered illegal unless they obtain special permission.

Over the same time period, since at least 2016, Thailand’s National Innovation Agency (NIA) and its national space agency GISTDA have organized an annual competition, UAV Startup, which offers prizes of about 1,000,000 THB (USD30,000) to domestic Thai hardware manufacturers.

Agricultural (crop spraying) drones, unaffected by the ban on urban drones, are now quite widely used.  Thailand’s agricultural sector produces 8.4 percent of GDP, from 2013 figures, and has been so far the biggest user of commercial drone technology.  Dozens of domestic drone firms service farmers, either charging per day or selling the drones outright, or financing their sale through partnerships with banks.  Several domestic firms make custom agricultural drones, and it is this burgeoning industry that the MOU hopes to encourage and facilitate.

On 18 July 2018, the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) hosted the largest drone-related event ever held in Thailand: the Drone Forum.  Featuring a keynote speech from Air Chief Marshal Johm Rungswang, Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Thai Air Force, the one-day event held in Bangkok attracted over a thousand military and civilian participants.  Panel discussions and Q&A sessions were held with the national airspace regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT).

Given the recent developments within Thailand and its neighbours, I have a very positive outlook for the drone industry in Southeast Asia.  If any organization would like to discuss in more detail, please feel free to reach out.  I look forward to hearing from you.

(Image: From left: Royal Thai Air Force Officer, Royal Thai Air Force’s Group Captain Punpakdee Pattanakul, Michael Currie of Fling, Nontaly Aksornthung of Fling, Khun Tanate Duangpatra of ThaiSkyDigital).

Fling Co., Ltd. is a drone service provider in Thailand.  In addition to its unmanned aerial logistics platform, the company offers infrastructure inspection software and services and consultation on the integration drone traffic management data. https://fling.asia (Source: www.unmannedairspace.info)

03 June 19. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA‑ASI), CAE Canada, MDA, and L3 WESCAM are expanding Team SkyGuardian to include even more Canadian companies. Team SkyGuardian Canada (TSC) is a coalition of companies who support the MQ-9B SkyGuardian to fulfill Canada’s Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) requirements.

Team SkyGuardian presents Canadian industry with business opportunities in the Canadian RPAS Project and across the global fleet of more than 400 MQ-9 aircraft flying throughout the world. To facilitate the Team’s growth, GA-ASI and Team SkyGuardian will engage industry across all regions of Canada through industry events. The goal of the events will be to hold business-to-business meetings where companies can brief their core capabilities and move toward meaningful opportunities for collaboration.

“We look forward to integrating the capabilities of the Canadian aerospace and defense industry to deliver the best solution to the Canadian Armed Forces,” said David R. Alexander, president, Aircraft Systems, GA-ASI. “With a cutting-edge program like the Canadian RPAS Project, Team SkyGuardian wants to leverage the innovation centers and businesses that can push the boundaries of the technology.”

While current Team SkyGuardian members represent the larger defense and aerospace companies in Canada, the upcoming industry engagements will emphasize small and medium-sized companies. Announcements for industry engagements and events will be posted on the Team SkyGuardian website: teamskyguardiancanada.com.

03 June 19. Silent Falcon Extended Endurance Model Launched. Silent Falcon UAS Technologies, a UAS service provider and manufacturer of the Silent Falcon, a solar electric, fixed wing, Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS), has announced the introduction of the Silent Falcon EE or Extended Endurance model. The Silent Falcon EE incorporates the newest technological innovations in solar panels, battery and solar power conversion. Silent Falcon EE can stay aloft for up to 8 hours in day time, and 4 hours at night.

The communications capabilities of the Silent Falcon EE have also been upgraded by including three MIMO MANET radios at the Ground Control Station with the SF TriAntenna configuration. This configuration significantly increases connectivity, bandwidth and reliability. It also allows one of the radios to be used to be used to connect a remote site, such as a command center to the radio network.

This is an exceptional technological achievement for Silent Falcon as it continues to extend its mission set, expand its capabilities and perform more challenging assignments. The Silent Falcon platform has been successfully used in various Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance; Search and Rescue and long-range border patrol missions across the globe; and in extreme environmental conditions while assisting the US Department of Interior in wildfire fighting operations. Its long-range, long-endurance attributes, as well as its portability and very small operational footprint proved to be key factors contributing to the success of these missions.

“We continually push the envelope bringing new and proven technologies to the Silent Falcon Unmanned Aircraft System, increasing its capabilities, reliability and applicability to diverse missions. The Silent Falcon is an open interface, open architecture modular system that was designed to easily integrate new technologies and capabilities once they have been proven in the field. The Silent Falcon EE is a great example of this —“ extended endurance with more robust solar power, and rock-solid communications for more reliable longer-range missions”said John W. Brown Silent Falcon’s Chairman and CEO.”We are flying the Silent Falcon EE now for our own UAS services customers and look forward to making it the new standard for long endurance, long range electric UAS”. (Source: UAS VISION)

30 May 19. What does the Army see in this tiny pogo-stick robot? Outside of fiction, robots are rarely bipedal. If a robot has legs at all, it’s likely to have at least four of them, providing a range of balance and stability replicated often in the animal kingdom. On wheels or tracks, the robots’ movement becomes even more familiar, the chassis of a vehicle reproduced in miniature. When two-legged robots exist, they can struggle with balance, requiring careful design to navigate spaces and weight shifts that come naturally to humans. Which is what makes the SALTO robot so intriguing: rather than walk on two or more limbs, SALTO bounces and balances on a single foot attached to a single leg.

“SALTO” stands for “saltatorial locomotion on terrain obstacles,” and the one-legged machine draws its direct inspiration from the small Galago primates of sub-Saharan Africa. Galagos are built to jump multiple times in rapid succession, and SALTO is never not jumping when it moves, a powerful leg constantly propelling it forward and upward.

SALTO was built by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley with funding from an Army Research Grant. Novel movement schemes and patterns could prove useful in finding and rescuing people after disasters in collapsed buildings, and SALTO’s small form means it could travel through spaces before them become accessible to humans. The robot is capable of leaping up to 4 feet, and can perform hundreds of jumps over a 10 minute span. It is like a character in a platformer video game brought into reality, bounding from surface to surface and stringing those leaps together to clear obstacles and move from surface to surface.

The SALTO project has gone on for years, first demonstrating successive leaps in 2016. In 2016, stopping moving was the trickiest part, with the robot often ending its series of leaps by falling into a net. Recent advancements added stability controls, like counterbalances and little rotors and internal sensors, which allow the robot to move outside the lab under the remote control of a human operator, but the landings are still tricky.

If a future SALTO-inspired military rescue robot is designed to look for somebody, falling in place once it identifies a human in need should be plenty fine, especially of the robot can be adapted to carry a walkie-talkie or another signalling tool, alerting human controls as to what it found. Putting a useful sensor package on the robot could make it a scout that could travel inside spaces too small and irregular for humans, perhaps bouncing into chimneys or through pipes or over rubble.

Before any of the planning into missions can take place, the robot will need to travel over new and diverse terrain. For now, its pogoing motion works best on cement, wood paneling, and in the lab. Adding dirt, grass, and rocks to the features it can bound over will greatly expand where SALTO can go, and what can be done with in.

In the meantime, it’s worth thinking about the possibilities a platform like this opens up for rescue and reconnaissance work. The robots of tomorrow’s battlefields will likely be far stranger than fiction has imagined. (Source: C4ISR & Networks)

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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.

www.britbots.com/fund

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