Sponsored by The British Robotics Seed Fund
25 Sep 19. Could this chemical-sensing drone benefit the battlefield? For a robot to save lives, it needs to be able to not just go into danger, but also to do something useful while it is there. The FLIR MUVE C360, a chemical-sensing platform announced Sept. 24 at the Airworks 2019 conference, wants to mitigate the hazards of hazardous material. It is a flying machine defined by the sensors it carries. Built specifically to mount on a DJI Matrice 210 airframe, the FLIR-built MUVE C360 is marketed at public safety and enterprise customers. The 360 is for 360-degree situational awareness, both with cameras and especially in gasses it can detect.
“The MUVE C360 features an eight-channel gas detection sensor, including a photoionization detector (PID), lower explosive limit (LEL), oxygen, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide and chlorine,” said a FLIR spokesperson. The drone can also mount a DJI-made Zenmuse XT2 thermal sensor and camera, offering “visible detection and clues on where to examine a scene to locate the source, both in visible and infrared light.”
Outside of industry use, FLIR sees the MUVE C360 as a tool for police and firefighters to use in first response, sending the robot in for valuable information about a potentially dangerous situation before risking a human. FLIR expects to ship to U.S. customers before the end of 2019 and to customers in Europe by early 2020.
While not explicitly marketed at a military customer, valuable sensor systems marketed at the commercial and public safety worlds often find their way into military acquisitions.
This is a situation that has put DJI in an interesting place in the past, as its explicitly not military-grade equipment ends up purchased by military customers, and then becomes the subject of congressional scrutiny over why the military went for a commercial off-the-shelf capability.
While the MUVE C360 is explicitly designed to mount onto a DJI-made airframe, the flexibility of sensor packages is such that, should it spark Pentagon interest, it could likely be adapted to a different airframe if need be. When it comes to a flying camera that read the gasses in a room, the flying part is almost secondary to the overall sensor effect. (Source: C4ISR & Networks)
25 Sep 19. Korea Aerospace Unmanned Helicopter’s Successful First Flight. An unmanned helicopter developed by Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), the sole aircraft maker in South Korea, made a successful maiden flight in a project aimed at acquiring technologies related to advanced unmanned aerial vehicles.
In its test flight in a space center in the southern coastal town of Goheung, the unmanned helicopter named “Night Introduer (NI)-600VT” flew in place and turned left and right to check its flight control performance and safety, KAI said in a statement on Tuesday.
The NI-600VT is a 600-kilogram vertical take-off and landing unmanned helicopter based on a manned helicopter with two seats, KAI said, adding that key systems such as automatic flight control and aviation electronics were all made with independent technology. KAI plans to complete the first stage of development this year and secure automatic take-off and landing capabilities on the ship.
“We will lead the domestic unmanned aerial vehicle technology and industry by having our own original technologies that will enable the unmanned refinement of fixed-wing and rotating-wing aircraft in the future,” it said.
South Korea hopes to develop or acquire a variety of unmanned aerial vehicles or drones capable of staging tactical and strategic missions at high, medium and low altitudes. In July 2017, TR-60 UAV, an unmanned aerial vehicle powered by helicopter-like rotors, successfully conducted a vertical take-off and landing test aboard a fast-moving coastguard vessel.
The test of TR-60 UAV with rotors at its wingtips, designed by the state-run Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), weighed 200 kilograms and can fly for more than five hours. (Source: UAS VISION/Aju Business Daily)
24 Sep 19. UAV Turbines’ Monarch 5 Engine Completes Successful Inaugural Flight, Ushers In New Era of Unmanned Aircraft Systems. The Monarch 5 microturbine propulsion system enables commercial and defense partners to power UAVs with a reliable, durable engine that outperforms conventional engines.
)UAV Turbines, Inc., a pioneer of microturbine technology, today announced the inaugural flight of its Monarch 5 engine, a first-of-its-kind microturbine propulsion system, at Griffiss International Airport. This new turboprop technology is engineered to provide mid-sized commercial and military unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) with a reliable, efficient, safe, heavy-fuel propulsion system. The Monarch 5 is now poised to replace the unreliable and maintenance-intensive reciprocating engines currently used by providing operators with superior performance and ease of use, and features a remote start, quiet operation, and long intervals between required maintenance. Click here to watch Monarch 5’s historic first flight.
According to a recent report from the FAA, the commercial UAV market is expected to triple in size by 2023 as the need and use cases for UAVs expand to include medical support, cargo delivery, search and rescue, and transportation. However, current engines do not offer the reliability and safety profile required to perform these tasks. Now, for the first time, UAV Turbines’ Monarch family of turboprop engines offers a propulsion system that will meet the safety, flight duration and reliability requirements for commercial use.
“After years of innovative and intensive design and engineering work, we are elated to see our first Monarch propulsion system take flight in a TigerShark airframe from Navmar Applied Science Corp.,” said Kirk Warshaw, CEO of UAV Turbines. “This flight is proof positive that our team is without peer in the development of small turboprop engine systems. Our attention now turns to working with commercial and military partners to develop airframes around our Monarch 5 propulsion system, similar to the manner that manned aircraft are designed and developed. Furthermore, we believe our Monarch engine’s capabilities will be instrumental in driving the urban air mobility and defense industries forward in making unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) as commonplace as airplanes, trucks and ships for both commercial and defense use.”
“The capabilities the Monarch engine family brings to the UAV industry are game-changing,” said Major General (retired) William T. “Tim” Crosby, Chairman of UAV Turbines’ Board of Advisors. “The successful test flight of the Monarch propulsion system proves that reliability, added safety, and efficiency is now available to the end-user, whether they be military or commercial, in a variety of platforms. This engine will be instrumental in the continued growth and development of the UAV market.”
In addition to serving as a best-in-class UAV propulsion system, the Monarch 5 and other members of the Monarch family currently in development are ideal for applications such as ground power and auxiliary power when configured as a turbogenerator. Having been designed to the standards required for flight, both the aerospace and ground power markets now have access to a new and disruptive technology. (Source: BUSINESS WIRE)
25 Sep 19. US Triton deployment to inform Australia’s future operations. The US Navy is sending two high-altitude MQ-4C Triton drones to Guam on their first overseas deployment, placing the sophisticated surveillance platform deep within the Indo-Pacific, providing an opportunity for the Royal Australian Air Force to learn from the experience.
Getting unmanned systems out in front of manned aircraft and ships in the Pacific has emerged as one of the US Navy’s highest priorities, as China continues to expand and reinforce its integrated web of sophisticated anti-access/area-denial capabilities in the South China Sea.
These developments have been of growing concern for both Australian and US military planners as the increasingly capable systems like the DF-21 and DF-26 continue to evolve, posing increased threat to major surface units.
Deployed alongside a group of sailors from the US Navy’s Unmanned Patrol Squadron 19, (VUP 19) the first unit to fly the Triton, the two drones are heading to Guam for an Early Operational Capability deployment to assess how they will operate alongside US and coalition aircraft.
Doug Shaffer, vice president and program manager of Triton program, Northrop Grumman, explained the importance of the deployment, particularly for Australia, saying, “VUP-19’s deployment is a major milestone for the Triton program as we continue to develop and refine the Triton system to meet the US Navy and Australia’s joint requirements for the multi-intelligence configuration. This deployment will enable both the US Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force to learn the requirements for sustaining deployed operations of the Triton system, and Northrop Grumman will be in support every step of the way.”
Remotely flying out of RAAF Edinburgh, South Australia, the Tritons are capable of monitoring 40,000 square kilometres a day and seamlessly flying a round trip for sustained surveillance and in support of allied Freedom of Navigation Operations in the South China Sea from the Northern Territory – increasing Australia’s interoperability with key allies, particularly the US. (Source: Defence Connect)
24 Sep 19. Chinese drone maker DJI says US sales ban an affront to industry. Comments come after US legislators move to block purchases from China. The American Security Drone Act of 2019 was introduced last week to prevent US agencies from relying on sophisticated technology that could allegedly leak sensitive data to Beijing. DJI, the Chinese drone maker, has said that Washington’s bid to block US sales of its products is an affront to an emerging industry, arguing for comprehensive regulatory standards rather than bans aimed at individual companies based on their nationality. “You just want to prohibit the use of the product, or bar the company from doing business, just because of country of origin. Just because we’re located in China, therefore the product is not safe and secure,” said Mario Rebello, regional manager for North America at DJI, the world’s biggest drone manufacturer, at its fourth annual Airworks conference in Los Angeles. “That’s not a validation. That’s not a path forward. You shouldn’t be legislated based on country of origin.” Last week US legislators introduced a bill that would block federal funds from being used to purchase drones from China. The American Security Drone Act of 2019, which has received bipartisan support, was drafted to prevent US agencies from relying on sophisticated technology that could allegedly leak sensitive data to Beijing.
The bill follows years of accusations that DJI has been undercutting competition to corner the market and get access to sensitive US infrastructure data.
“It’s a major headwind when people are purposely, you know, pushing misinformation, creating myths, creating scenarios that are just not true,” Mr Rebello said. What [DJI has] been able to do over the last 18 months is make clear that your data is not our business Mario Rebello, DJI “What we’ve been able to do over the last 18 months is make clear that your data is not our business,” he added. “You, the end user, decide how you’re going to store the data, how you’re going to manage the data. Are you going to share the data with anyone? It’s your call.” The implications of the bill could be far-reaching given how quickly the drone market is growing. DJI cited projections showing that total drone sales should hit, by 2025, $82bn — roughly the size of the smartphone market a decade ago.
The company is backed by US venture capital groups Sequoia, Accel and Kleiner Perkins and was valued at $10bn in 2015. It introduced its first drone in 2012 and by last year had accelerated its global market share in drone sales to 74 per cent, according to Skylogic Research. “We came from non-existent five or six years ago to being at $82bn in the next four or five years — there’s dramatic growth,” said Mr Rebello. Recommended The Saudi oil attack Drones: fly trap Government agencies have been big purchasers of DJI’s products, causing unease in some circles.
The US Department of the Interior, tasked with managing federal lands and natural resources, is an important DJI partner with a fleet of more than 500 drones in its portfolio. The Los Angeles Fire Department has about 10 DJI drones, some with 30x zoom capabilities it has deployed to survey damaged areas in the aftermath of fires. “[The proposed ban] would have a massive impact on not only our fire department, but on public safety in general,” said LAFD battalion chief Richard Fields at a presentation on Monday. DroneBase, whose network of more than 55,000 licensed pilots provide aerial images and data for commercial clients, said it has made substantial investments in security and is convinced its sensitive data is not shared with DJI. “It’s really about a strong chain of custody from the capture to the uploading of data,” said Dan Burton, a former Marine who witnessed the capabilities of drones in war and then founded DroneBase to realise their commercial potential. “As imagery and data get captured, that just goes to an SD card that DJI never accesses,” he said. (Source: FT.com)
23 Sep 19. Royal Navy’s top officer lays out vision for unmanned surface vessels. The head of Britain’s Royal Navy said his service plans to start small and scale up when it comes to autonomous surface vessels.
Adm. Tony Radakin told an audience this month that the Royal Navy isn’t yet planning to pursue large-format unmanned surface vessels on the scale of the United States’ Sea Hunter program.
“We’ve started using boats to follow an autonomy path,” Radakin said. “I think that feels to me more like the way we will introduce autonomy in terms of our surface ships. Because I think we will need the comfort of a mothership and those supporting boats operating from the mothership, and then I think it will grow in size.”
Radakin said the service will follow the commercial sector and take advantage of advancements in autonomous technology developed in the private sector.
“Like much of this, as the civilian community invests in autonomous ships, and we get the reliability, we’ll be investing further in that way,” he said.
Forging an unmanned future, however, is going to be key for the Navy, he noted.
“The piece that’s clear to me is the direction of travel,” he said. “And that’s the place where I think, as a Navy, we have to shift and we have to expect to move much more quickly.”
The Royal Navy has launched its NavyX initiative to accelerate introduction of unmanned systems into the fleet. During the DSEI arms fair, the Type 23 frigate Argyll controlled an experimental unmanned version of its rigid-hull inflatable boat, the PAC24, from the Argyll’s combat system.
“This is much more than an autonomous surface vessel demonstration for the Royal Navy,” Cmdr. Sean Trevethan, program director for NavyX, said in a statement. “What we are doing is the first step of exploiting system architecture in a complex warship to integrate an unmanned system into the ship. This ensures the system and its payload fully contribute to the warfighting capability of the ship.
“Ultimately this will change the way we fight, through integrated command and control, and lead to the development of new tactics, techniques and procedures.”
The Royal Navy teamed up with the government-run Defence and Science Technology Laboratory, BAE Systems and L3Harris to work on the program.
The U.K. was among more than a dozen NATO members to agree in 2018 to work together on the development of maritime unmanned systems aimed at combating the rising threat of Russian submarines and the ever-present threat of mines.
In his speech at DSEI, Radakin pointed to securing the north Atlantic as a top priority for his tenure as first sea lord.
“Securing the North Atlantic is key to ensuring freedom of movement for the nuclear deterrent,” he said. “We need to continue to invest here so we can maintain and extend our advantage and fulfill our commitments to the nation and to our allies.”
To that end, those member states are increasingly looking toward unmanned systems. The Sea Hunter program is under development with the idea that it can tow sensors and communicate back with other U.S. Navy assets that can act on gathered intelligence. Other nations are looking at a similar concept of operations for unmanned systems.
NATO staged an exercise off the coast of Portugal that gathers dozens of robot systems for maritime uses, following up on the 2018 commitment.
Exercise REP (MUS) 19 took place Sept. 11-19, according to a NATO news release.
About 800 service members and civilians from the Portuguese Navy, as well as Belgium, Italy, Turkey, Poland, the U.K. and the U.S. are participating in the exercise. (Source: Defense News)
20 Sep 19. Sea Hunter in new demonstration. Leidos’ Sea Hunter USV has taken part in a demonstration using a new, advanced sensor system, the company announced on 19 September. The demonstration was part of a project carried out by the US Office of Naval Research to explore how unmanned vehicles can be used as naval force multipliers, and enable other warships to be freed up for other missions. The exercise also showcased the open architecture and flexibility of Sea Hunter, which has previously hosted a variety of mission payloads, including airborne sensors. The project was supported by the Naval Information Warfare Center – Pacific, Naval Undersea Warfare Center-Newport and Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.
Nevin Carr, Leidos navy strategic account executive, said: ‘This exercise offered valuable lessons learned on how to take full advantage of a medium USV, with no personnel on board. Autonomous vessels, especially when combined with artificial intelligence, have the potential to impact naval warfare in ways yet to be discovered.’ (Source: Shephard)
20 Sep 19. Payload Tests for XQ-58A Set for Early 2020. Kratos Defense & Security Solutions expects to be on a contract before the end of September 2019 to integrate communications and autonomy payloads into its XQ-58A Valkyrie unmanned air vehicle (UAV). The loyal wingman aircraft, being developed in partnership with the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), would be tested in the first quarter of 2020. The payloads are not part of the AFRL programme, but come from another US defence customer, says Steve Fendley, president of Kratos Unmanned Systems Division. He declines to name the client or the specific hardware that is planned for integration.
Kratos has completed three examples of its XQ-58A and all are flight worthy, says Fendley. The first aircraft has flown twice since March 2019 and is owned by the US Air Force (USAF). The other two are owned by Kratos, one of which is anticipated to fly before the end of the year.
“We know the airplane works. Now, put some sensors and systems on it that are configured in the way that you would ultimately use the airplane,” says Fendley. “We’ll be integrating things into the weapons bay and there are two major payload bays on the forward section of the airplane – we will be integrating in all those areas.”
The Valkyrie has a modular nose cone and front midsection, as well as plug and play interfaces, to allow sensor hardware to be quickly swapped in and out, he adds.
Speaking hypothetically about future capabilities, Fendley also says the recently unveiled Raytheon Peregrine, a half-sized, medium-range, air-to-air missile, could be carried in the XQ-58A’s weapons bay. The Lockheed Martin Cuda might be another air-to-air missile candidate, he says.
The UAV’s weapons bay is sized to carry four small diameter bombs, but could fit at least two Peregrine-sized air-to-air missiles, says Fendley. Adding air-to-air missiles to the XQ-58A would help fulfill one of its envisioned roles as an escort wingman for manned aircraft such as the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lighting II or Boeing Super Hornet F/A-18E/F. (Source: UAS VISION/FlightGlobal)
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.