Sponsored by The British Robotics Seed Fund
18 Jul 19. Iranian army deploys armed UAVs. The Islamic Republic of Iran Army Ground Forces (IRIAGF) has deployed three Mohajer-6 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), it was announced on 17 July. Iranian media cited Brigadier General Shahram Hassannejad, the commander of the IRIAGF’s UAV unit, as saying that the aircraft would be used to identify and destroy threats to the country’s borders.
The military released photographs showing at least one Mohajer-6 deployed to an unidentified airfield that was said to be in northeast Iran. The presence in the photographs of an uncompleted building with a blue frame indicated they were taken at the airstrip north of Gonabad in Razavi Khorasan province, 170 km from the Afghanistan border.
Unveiled in April 2016, the Mohajer-6 is the first of the Mohajer series to have wheeled undercarriage. A ceremony was held in February 2018 to announce that it had entered serial production for the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC). (Source: IHS Jane’s)
18 Jul 19. Qatari Defense Firm Buys an Aerosonde UAS. A Qatari defense firm with its headquarters in Charleston recently purchased a surveillance drone as part of its plan to provide intelligence services to unspecified international customers. Barzan Aeronautical bought an Aerosonde unmanned aircraft from Textron Systems at last month’s Paris Air Show, Providence, R.I.-based Textron said in a written statement. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.
Barzan Aeronautical CEO Richard Craven said the contract with Textron is “part of our long term business investment in the Charleston area.”
“Our relationship with Textron and other major U.S. companies will continue to support job growth in South Carolina and allow Barzan Aeronautical to deliver capabilities to U.S. and NATO allies,” Craven said.
Barzan Aeronautical is a division of Barzan Holdings, which is owned by the Qatari Ministry of Defense. According to the Barzan Holdings website, the entity is “responsible for empowering the military capabilities of the Qatari Armed Forces” through partnerships with international companies.
Textron said the drone is part of a teaming agreement with Barzan “to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance services.” Delivery of the drone is scheduled for early 2020, the company said.
A Textron spokesperson declined to give further details, saying specific information about the contract is confidential.
Little is publicly known about Barzan Aeronautical, which was formed about a month after Qatari leaders met in early 2018 with South Carolina politicians, business leaders and Boeing Co. executives at Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner campus in North Charleston. At the time, leaders with the Qatar Investment Authority said they were looking for investment opportunities in the Palmetto State.
A white paper distributed to members of Congress this year by Qatar’s ambassador said Barzan Aeronautical established its Charleston base “to build out a large military aircraft initiative that is expected to support numerous jobs.”
The document provided no additional information about the company.
Documents filed with the federal Foreign Agents Registration Act state Barzan Aeronautical’s purpose is “development and production of surveillance aircraft.”
Barzan Aeronautical’s website says the company picked Charleston “based on the area’s substantial aeronautical engineering talent and expertise and the warm and friendly atmosphere that Charleston offers, epitomizing the best in Southern hospitality.”
The website does not state what projects the company will be involved with. Barzan Aeronautical had placed ads on LinkedIn last year seeking aviation engineers and a program manager but then removed the listings. (Source: UAS VISION/The Post and Courier)
18 Jul 19. Altitude Angel to Launch World’s First UTM ‘Conflict Resolution Service.’ Altitude Angel, a UTM (Unmanned Traffic Management) technology provider, has announced that it is to launch the world’s first UTM ‘conflict resolution service’ as an API, and in doing so has taken a huge step towards allowing automated drone flights to become a day-to-day reality. Using this service, any pilot or operator can securely check for conflicts in their drone flights quickly and easily, using the firm’s tried-and-trusted safety technology.
Available via Altitude
Angel’s developer platform and powered by its GuardianUTM operating system services, the Conflict Resolution Service (CRS) addresses some of the key risks which prevent BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight) operations today.
Automated drones flying BVLOS have so far not been realised on a commercial scale due, in large part, to the inability of drone technology to be able to ‘deal with the unexpected’ – other aircraft or drones, obstacles or airspace closures which weren’t foreseeable before the flight happened, or, would previously have been ‘dealt with’ by a human pilot. CRS goes a step beyond, helping implementers to react in a coordinated and predictable manner, contributing to increased airspace safety.
If concepts such as Amazon drone deliveries and Uber’s flying taxis are to be realised, there is an immediate need to make sure the thousands of drones in the sky are operating safely and can manage circumstances where a conflict might arise either pre-flight or during flight. Now, using CRS, drones and drone pilots can store flight plans with a globally-distributed and reliable service without needing to exchange private or potentially sensitive data with each other, while benefiting from an immediate pre-flight conflict resolution advice.
CRS will come in two classes:
Conflict resolution information is provided to a drone operator during the flight planning phase (pre-flight phase) of the operation by comparing it to other previously submitted flight plans, against ground and airspace geofenced areas available in Altitude Angel’s worldwide data feeds. The system will then propose alterations to the take-off time and/or route to eliminate the conflict, suggesting minimally invasive changes to permit the mission to continue unobstructed. Developers and drone manufacturers can utilise CRS to securely share flight plan data and opt-in to ‘global conflict resolution’, where all flight plans which have been shared will be checked for conflicts. ‘Private’ modes exist for fleet operators who only want to check for conflicts against their own drones or customers.
Tactical CRS will provide information to drone pilots or the drone itself to ensure separation is maintained during the in-flight phase. The dynamic system will continuously monitor the airspace around an aircraft for the ‘unexpected’ such as other aerial vehicles or changes to airspace (such as a Temporary Flight Restriction/Dynamic Geofence around a police incident). After identifying a potential conflict, CRS will make the necessary routing adjustments, allowing the drone to maintain an appropriate separation standard between other airspace users or fly around restricted airspace so it can continue safely (and efficiently) to its destination.
Richard Parker, Altitude Angel, CEO and founder said: “The launch of our Conflict Resolution Service cannot be underestimated. It is a massive step forward, a ‘game changer’, for not only Altitude Angel, but for the future of automated flight. The ability for drones and automated aircraft to strategically plan flights, be made aware of potential conflict, and alter their route accordingly is critical in ensuring safety in our skies. This first step is all about pre-flight coordination, between drone pilots, fleet operators and other UTM companies. The tactical component of CRS answers the biggest challenge BVLOS flight brings; how do you deal with the unexpected. Being able to predict and resolve conflict mid-flight by providing appropriate and timely guidance will revolutionise automated flight. CRS is one of the critical building blocks on which the drone and automated flight industries will grow.”
Altitude Angel will launch CRS in two phases, with Strategic being brought online on 23 July and Tactical CRS in late September. CRS represents significant investment from Altitude Angel and will be subject to continuous future updates and additional functionality as the firm takes more of its ground-breaking technology from R&D to production. (Source: UAS VISION)
17 Jul 19. Global drone market estimated to reach $14bn over next decade: study. The worldwide non-military drone market, dominated by manufacturers in China, will triple in size to $14.3bn in sales over the next decade, a study released on Wednesday said, even as U.S. officials warn of national security risks.
The market, estimated at $4.9bn this year, will benefit from a gradual opening of U.S. airspace by the Federal Aviation Administration and increased use by commercial industries, according to the study by aerospace analysis company Teal Group.
The report comes amid increased security concerns from the United States and private U.S. companies that Beijing could access sensitive data and footage collected by Chinese-made drones.
Chinese manufacturers supply three-quarters of the world commercial and consumer markets by unit, said Phil Finnegan, a Teal Group analyst who authored the study.
In May the Department of Homeland Security warned U.S. firms of the risks to company data from Chinese-made drones, according to a notice reviewed by Reuters.
Chinese drone manufacturer DJI, which is at the center of the criticism, called the security concerns “false” and “misguided.”
DJI customers have “full and complete” control of their data, said spokesman Michael Oldenburg in a phone interview.
The leading market segment for drones, the study said, is industrial inspection, which includes industries such as construction, energy and mining. They use drones to survey sites and transmission lines, among other things. Use in agriculture, for spraying crops and analyzing fields, ranks second, it said.
The U.S. Army in 2017 stopped its usage of DJI drones. The Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act includes a provision to block the Defense Department from using Chinese drones.
Cape, a California-based company that sells drone software to various law enforcement agencies, said on Wednesday that it would “cease all integration” with DJI and other Chinese drone makers. (Source: Reuters)
17 Jul 19. Northrop Grumman Announces New Orders for its Optionally Piloted Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance System Ahead of European Debut. Marking its European debut, Northrop Grumman Corporation’s (NYSE: NOC) Firebird product line will be showcased at the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford, in the United Kingdom, July 19-21.
The company is also announcing signed agreements with Tenax Aerospace and Grand Sky Development Company, LLC (“Grand Sky”) for rights to purchase Firebird, the company’s new, optionally piloted intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft system.
“Flexibility, whether in cockpit configuration, payloads, or in owning and purchasing Firebird, is at the core of what makes this aircraft such an attractive ISR option for government partners and private industry,” said Brian Chappel, vice president, autonomous systems, Northrop Grumman. “Having flown over two dozen sensors on Firebird’s proven architecture, we are ready to offer Firebird to a wide range of nations, U.S. government and civilian agencies, and businesses with critical data collection needs.”
Northrop Grumman’s Firebird product line delivers medium altitude, long endurance multi-mission flexibility and an unbeatable value. Available in manned, autonomous and optionally piloted configurations, Firebird is designed to deliver critical ISR capability to meet customer mission needs.
Grand Sky is the nation’s first commercial unmanned aerial vehicle testing and training center. Located in Grand Forks, North Dakota, Grand Sky is home to one of Northrop Grumman’s North Dakota locations. Tenax Aerospace is a leading provider of special mission aircraft and related aviation services to the U.S. government and commercial customers. Both companies see Firebird as meeting critical information gaps for their businesses.
“We are excited to bring Firebird to Grand Sky and to utilize its long-endurance and variable payload capabilities for commercial customers. Our goal is to support energy infrastructure monitoring and humanitarian and disaster relief operations by leveraging Firebird’s range, altitude and endurance,” said Thomas Swoyer Jr., president and partner with Grand Sky. “We see the incredible efficiencies to be gained in the market with technology like Firebird, enabling affordable data gathering on a scale not previously available to the commercial market space.”
“Firebird allows Tenax Aerospace to bring industry leading adaptability and flexibility in data collection at an extremely affordable price point to meet the needs of our sophisticated U.S. government and global security customers,” said Tom Foley, chairman, Tenax Aerospace. “Firebird provides a unique flexibility and responsiveness that we feel is essential for the critical missions we support today and in the future.”
Firebird is equipped with wide band Line-of-Sight (LoS) and/or Beyond-Line-of-Sight (BLoS) data links, onboard storage and accessible processing for rapid data exploitation to ensure timely completion of missions for industry and government customers. The system’s unique design allows sensors to be changed rapidly as plug-and-play devices, reducing first time payload integration time from months to days and enabling rapid field changes in less than an hour to increase operational availability and tailored mission suitability. Firebird delivers 30-plus hours of endurance and up to 25,000 feet, providing customers near real-time actionable intelligence.
17 Jul 19. US Navy Releases MUSV RFP, Official Stresses Experimentation Before Use. The Navy released the final request for proposals (RFP) for the development of a Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicle (MUSV) on July 16. MUSV will be a pier-launched, self-deploying modular surface vessel that uses open architecture. The Navy said it will be capable of autonomous navigation and mission execution. The Navy defines a MUSV as being 39 to 164 feet long. It plans to conduct a full and open competitive procurement this year and expects to award a single MUSV prototype in the first quarter of FY 2020. The first MUSV prototype is expected to be delivered in FY ’22.
The RFP also includes options for additional MUSVs, the Navy said.
“Accelerating Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV) and payload development and warfighting integration will provide an inflection point in delivering a more distributed force in support of the National Defense Strategy,” Naval Sea Systems Command said in a statement. Previously, the service released its draft MUSV performance specification and had a MUSV industry day in February.
The Navy said this RFP incorporates months of dialogue and feedback with industry. A June Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report noted the Navy plans to award a contract for the second MUSV in FY ’23. It said the Navy wants these vessels to be low-cost, high endurance, reconfigurable ships. Initial payloads will be intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and electronic warfare systems.
MUSV is building on Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) work with its Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) with the Office of Naval Research, which resulted in the construction and testing of the Sea Hunter USV. Responses to the RFP are due by Sept. 30. On Wednesday, Rear Adm. Gene Black, Director of Surface Warfare Division (OPNAV N96), said they are now exploring how to best use MUSVs and other unmanned surface vessels.
“We’re figuring out how we’re going to use these things, but it’s certainly not in the next couple years that we turn an unmanned vehicle loose on the West Coast and send it off on a mission.
There’s a lot of learning that has to go on. I think we need to come to terms with, are these manned, unmanned, are they optionally manned? When would you man them, when would you not man them? We’re working through all that and we don’t have any of those answers right now,” Black said during a Surface Navy Association event.
Black noted the service recently stood up the Surface Development Squadron on the West Coast in May and will have to experiment and figure out how to best use the vessels. The squadron aims to integrate medium and large unmanned surface vessels and support fleet experimentation to bring new warfighting concepts and capabilities to the fleet. It is responsible for maintenance, training, and manning oversight of the Zumwalt-class destroyers and MUSVs/LUSVs like the Sea Hunter and under-construction Sea Hunter II. Black said his staff is partnering with the squadron and thinks sailors will eventually figure out new and innovative ways to use the unmanned vessels.
“Candidly, we’re going to get some of these things, we’re going to buy them, and I know what I think we’re going to do, but the fact of the matter is the young guys and gals in the audience are going to use them for totally different ways that are much better than any idea that I ever had. So we’re figuring out how we’re going to do it.”
Black, who until recently served as the commander of the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group, said if he had a MUSV at his disposal, “[he’d] have pushed it out in front of me, certainly when I went up into the high north. It gives me sensors and eyes and connectivity way out in front of the strike group and an awareness of what’s going on so that I can decide if I want to go in another direction or do something completely different.”
While Black served as commander of the strike group in 2018, it deployed both the to Eastern Mediterranean and north of the Arctic Circle during the Trident Juncture exercise. (Source: Defense Daily)
17 Jul 19. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA‑ASI), a leading manufacturer of Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) systems, radars, and electro-optic and related mission systems solutions, marks the 25th anniversary of its Predator A unmanned aircraft this month. Predator A completed its first flight in July 1994 and made its operational debut in 1995. More than 320 Predator A’s have been delivered to customers in support of global security throughout the world, and the product line remained in production until 2011. Predator A’s have flown close to 141,000 missions and over two million total flight hours. More than 90 percent of those hours were flown supporting combat missions.
“With innovation in mind, we have always looked for ways to challenge the industry standard,” said Linden Blue, CEO, GA-ASI. “Our Predator-series has evolved over the past 25 years into MQ-9 and Gray Eagle (MQ-1C), which are the most combat-proven RPA in the world.”
GA-ASI won its first major program award for the Predator A in 1994 from the U.S. Joint Program Office, which was later transferred to the U.S. Air Force. In addition to the U.S., the Predator A was purchased by the Italian Ministry of Defense for the Italian Air Force, and later in a modernized version known as the Predator XP for the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Predator A established GA-ASI’s legacy of delivering long-endurance, multi-mission RPA with integrated sensors and data link systems for persistent situational awareness and rapid strike capabilities. The Predator series continues to excel in combat environments and in performing civilian surveillance missions.
“We’re proud of our long and distinguished history of supporting the warfighter,” said David R. Alexander, president, GA-ASI. “From Predator A, to Predator B, Gray Eagle, Avenger®, and their various mission configurations, our aircraft and payload systems continue to address changing mission requirements for U.S. and Allied militaries and civilian users.”
Over its 25 year history, the Predator series fleets have flown close to six million flight hours. GA-ASI is now developing the newest version of the series, MQ-9B SkyGuardian, which complies with airworthiness certification and air traffic management requirements that will enable the RPA to operate in the National Airspace System (NAS).
16 Jul 19. US Interior Department Approves Government Edition DJI Models. The Interior Department authorized officials to buy drones from a Chinese manufacturer that experts in government and industry view as a national security threat. On July 3, the agency approved the purchase of two specific models of drones built by SZ DJI Technology, a Chinese firm that occupies nearly three-quarters of the global drone market. Security experts have warned the company acts as a channel for Chinese government espionage, but according to Interior officials, the agency is taking a number of technical precautions to prevent DJI from getting a literal bird’s eye view of America’s critical operations.
“It’s a very narrow, very specific, very limited authorization,” Mark Bathrick, director of the Office of Aviation Services, told Nextgov. “We’re doing the very best we can to make sure the data we collect is secure.”
In May, the Homeland Security Department warned companies their data could be at risk if they use Chinese drones, and in 2017, the Army banned soldiers from using any unmanned aircraft manufactured by DJI. But as Interior officials look to significantly expand their own fleet of small, inexpensive drones in the years ahead, there are only so many vendors they can choose from, according to Bathrick.
When the department began courting commercial drone vendors in 2015, DJI wasn’t even considered an option. The year before, officials had laid out a set of security and performance standards for Interior’s drone fleet, and the company didn’t meet the requirement “to decline and lock out any device information sharing,” according to internal agency documents. In other words, DJI couldn’t guarantee it would keep its hands off the data collected by its drones.
The department ended up buying hundreds of 3DR Solo aircraft from the U.S.-based company 3D Robotics, but the firm stopped manufacturing the drones within weeks of the procurement, Bathrick said.
As officials looked for a new supplier, they found the aircraft manufactured by U.S. companies “were up to 10x less capable for the same price, or up to 10x more costly than similarly capable DJI aircraft.”
While 3DR Solos still make up more than 90 percent of Interior’s drone fleet, Bathrick said the department needed a more cost-effective, scalable option to support its expanding drone operations. And ultimately, DJI came to the table with a suitable offer.
In 2017, the department began working with DJI to develop drones outfitted with custom hardware, software and firmware that addressed the data management risks associated with its commercial products. The “Government Edition” build is air-gapped from both the department’s IT infrastructure and the public internet, preventing any illicit exfiltration of data, Bathrick said. The department itself will upload the software for each drone, and operators must manually download any data collected during their flights.
The department approved the purchase of the aircraft after 15 months of performance and security testing, and officials plan to apply the same rigorous reviews to any future software upgrades, Bathrick said.
“We still get all the full functionality of the DJI product,” Bathrick said, but with controls that would prevent DJI from getting access to the department’s data. As an added layer of security, pilots are only authorized to use the DJI aircraft for “non-sensitive missions whose … data is publicly releasable,” according to the order.
A DJI spokesperson told Nextgov the agreement shows the company’s commitment to ensuring its tech meets all of its customers’ requirements.
When asked about the procurement approval, the Homeland Security Department declined to comment and referred Nextgov to Interior.
Drones are becoming a critical tool in the department’s efforts to survey federal land, monitor wildlife and respond to natural disasters, and Bathrick said his office plans to purchase thousands of new unmanned aircraft in the years ahead. While many of those will likely come from DJI, he said the department will gladly do business with U.S. companies that offer a competitive product.
“We’re looking at drones from all over the world, and we’re applying the same [security] requirements,” he said. “For us, this [authorization] is an interim solution. This is just a milestone in our longer journey for secure and scalable solutions.”
When pressed on the national security concerns surrounding DJI, Bathrick said industry and the government “should treat all technology as if it’s a potential security risk, regardless of where it’s [manufactured].” He also rejected the idea floated by some lawmakers to ban all DJI products from the U.S. market, citing the proposal as ineffective and potentially misguided.
“It’s kind of easy for pundits and others to sit back and say ‘we should just ban them’ … if you don’t have any operational requirements, if you don’t have any mission you have to perform,” he said. “For those of us who have a responsibility to not only our agencies but the American public to go out and perform these missions … the only option is to collaborate with industry and collaborate with our federal partners and chart a path forward that is as secure as technically possible. I think that’s all any government organization and any company can do.” (Source: UAS VISION/NextGov)
15 Jul 19. Russian Naval Aviation Armed with Drones. The Russian Navy follows the trend to operate robotic systems and increases the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) in the naval aviation. Naval aviation Commander Major-General Igor Kozhin said drone development for the Navy is a priority guideline for leading design bureaus. The naval aviation has to upgrade the fleet and gradually replace it with new aircraft in the near future. It has to receive a hundred new aircraft, including drones by 2020, expert Denis Fedutinov writes in the Independent Military Review. The media numerously reported both official and unofficial data on the engagement of drones in the naval aviation. Specific craft were often mentioned, as well as their missions. It was reported in March 2018 that the Baltic fleet aviation in Kaliningrad region used Forpost to adjust fire of shipborne artillery. The drones were at an altitude of several kilometers and transmitted information to the command post about artillery fire by the Yaroslav Mudry frigate at targets located at various distances. It helped the warship adjust fire in real time and increase the effectiveness of the operation in general. The drones considerably simplified the task to guide the aviation. They were used in other missions as well, including the survey of coastal lines, specification of terrain relief, monitoring of military infrastructure and friendly forces camouflage. The drones of naval squadrons were engaged in Syria to monitor the strikes of the Navy and the Aerospace Forces in the interests of Russian and allied ground forces. They monitored the launch of Kalibr missiles from underwater, their flight and targets. Some Russian companies are developing drones for the Navy. Radar mms in St. Petersburg offers helicopter-type VT-500 drone for a broad range of missions. It has a takeoff weight of 500 kg, a coaxial scheme and can carry a 150-kg payload. Maximum flight duration is 5.5 hours and the range in an autonomous regime is 320 km. Radar mms believes the drones can be soon supplied to the Navy to arm surface warships. Another potential drone for the Navy is Skymak-3001 created by Aviation Systems in Moscow.
It has a single rotor with a steering propeller and the fuselage has a drop shape. The takeoff weight is close to 800 kg. The designer said it can fly for 4 hours at altitudes of up to 6 km. The drone can carry a 175-kg payload comprising optical-electronic systems, electronic warfare and weapons, including unguided missiles and mini bombs with high-explosive, fragmentation and cumulative warheads. It is hard to overestimate the prospects of unmanned aviation. Drones are already engaged in important missions. However, it is clear that the Navy lags behind other arms of the Russian forces in drone engagement. There is a major potential and Russian companies will compete for the customer. The naval aviation is likely to operate both light drones which can land on a net and heavier helicopter-type craft close to the American Fire Scout. The airplane-type coastal craft are likely to be heavy with a major payload and long flights. They are Forpost and upgraded vehicles, expert Denis Fedutinov writes in the Independent Military Review. (Source: UAS VISION/ Navy Recognition)
12 Jul 19. French Navy demos SLAMF USV. The French Navy has demonstrated the capabilities of the USV developed for the SLAMF programme in Brest Harbour. The SLAMF programme grew out of the Franco-British Lancaster House agreement initiated in 2010. The system is set to significantly improve France’s mine warfare in the next decade. The SLAMF system includes a USV equipped with a towed sonar for the detection, classification and location of mines, three AUVs and an ROV for the identification and neutralisation of mines. During the demonstration the USV detected, classified and located mines, transmitting sonar images in real time to a C2 operator. The USV prototype was launched in 2017 and qualification for the whole system is set for December 2019. From 2020, tests will be conducted on operational scenarios in the Brest area and in Great Britain to complete the qualification. (Source: Shephard)
12 Jul 19. Delair begins subscription service. Delair has introduced a subscription programme to allow customers to access its Delair UX11 family of UAS and delair.ai cloud-based data management solution. The programme will allow European customers to pay a fixed monthly fee and have unlimited use of the long-range, fully equipped drone for a minimum six-month contract period. Users will benefit from a 48-hour drone replacement guarantee in case of an accident, with limited out-of-pocket cost in case of user error or accidental damages.
The Delair UX11 is designed for highly precise and efficient mapping for agriculture and vegetation management. It uses an embedded global shutter camera, centimeter-level precision GNSS sensor, and post processed kinematic (PPK) capabilities for survey-grade results, and both 2.4GhZ wireless and 3G/4G cellular connectivity to operate anywhere. The multispectral data with PPK positioning enables precise georeferencing for repeatable analysis of individual plants. The UAS can fly for up to 59 minutes at a time covering over 300 acres at 400ft. (Source: Shephard)
11 Jul 19. Watch these drones throw caution – and sensors – to the wind. What is a seedpod but a perfectly iterated payload delivery system? Biomimicry, the field of making robots inspired by lifeforms, typically looks to the mobility of animals, but a project by roboticists at the Singapore University of Technology and Design instead turns to plants for borrowed inspiration. With five drone gliders held together in a single harness, the project can gently distribute a handful of small robots across an area, as gracefully as a tree releasing potential offspring into the wind.
Before getting into the specifics of this research, it’s worth noting that the Office of Naval Research and NASA have already invested in CICADA expendable gliding drone swarms as a sensor platform. With cheap electronics and transmission, gliding drones could cover a field and provide everything from meteorological data to perhaps even chemical or bioweapon detection. There are few systems like this in development, despite the fact that ONR has been looking to develop CICADA for well over a decade.
All of this is what makes “Dynamics and Control of a Collaborative and Separating Descent of Samara Autorotating Wings” so interesting. While the existing CICADA drones are mostly passive gliders, they are still steered into place via inertial navigation and control flaps in each wing, like a traditional plane or glider. The Samara Autorotating Wings, meanwhile, add just one flap to their one-winged design, which the roboticists found was enough to meaningfully control the vehicle’s gentle descent.
Together, five of the samara-drones can be linked in a single launching device, descending as one and steering together, until it is time for each pod to spin free and find a new fertile landing site.
Among the advantages of the design, as noted in IEEE Spectrum, is the ability to descend vertically, allowing entry down vertical shafts before spreading into more open spaces beyond the entrance. That could work for certain underground environments or clearings in forests, as a payload-bearing samara-drone could descend below the tree line and then scatter into otherwise hard to surveil nooks and crannies. At present, the samara-drone are limited to around a 30 gram payload, likely enough for a small sensor.
While the researchers focused on improved control and speed of the drones, military planners and designers interested in taking advantage of the descent possibilities afforded by the form could think of payloads to deliver by seedpod rotation. A microphone that transmits what it can hear from inside a cave entrance, a camera that tracks movement from below a treetop canopy, thermal sensors picking up on the movement of people, vehicles, or wildlife. Radios that eavesdrop on local short-ranges transmissions. Sensors, which for so long were wedded to vehicles, can now be dispersed as an effect unto themselves, like seeds carefully tossed into the wind. (Source: C4ISR & Networks)
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