Sponsored by The British Robotics Seed Fund
02 Apr 20. Greensea hull crawler tech combines with VideoRay ROV. Greensea has developed a new hull crawler that can be used to attach a ROV to the hull of a vessel without the use of magnetics.
The initial crawlers have been designed to work with VideoRay’s Mission Specialist Defender ROV to carry out hull inspections, surveying, non-destructive testing and EOD.
VideoRay CEO Scott Bentley said: ‘Our close integration with Greensea means that each of us can provide the other with best-in-class capabilities, resulting in an extremely powerful and unique product.’
Under a Phase 2 research and development contract awarded by the USN in 2019, Greensea was asked to create an accurate navigation and autonomy system for ship hull robots used to support proactive in-water cleaning. (Source: Shephard)
02 Apr 20. Covid-19: Malaysia enlists UASs to enforce countermeasures. The Malaysian Armed Forces (MAF) and Royal Malaysian Police (RMP) have deployed micro and small-class unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) to support enforcement of the government-mandated Movement Control Order (MCO) aimed at addressing the coronavirus outbreak in the country.
A joint media event with Chief of Defence Force General Affendi Buang and Inspector General of Police Hamid Bador was held on 24 March at the Brickfields District Police Headquarters to highlight the UAS types – comprising vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) systems of various models – being used in this effort.
The RMP revealed that the Drone Unit of the Police Air Wing would be using two DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual micro UAS, while the MAF would also be deploying the same type along with the DJI Matrice 210 small UAS. A third UAS type was also seen in official coverage of the event, namely two FLIR Systems (previously Aeryon Labs) Skyranger R60 small UASs, although it did not specifically identify the type.
It is believed that the Skyranger R60s are on loan as civilian contractors were seen operating them. Jane’s understands that the MAF UASs are operated by its tri-service intelligence branch called the Defence Intelligence Staff Division (DISD).
The Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual micro UAS has been developed by the Shenzhen-based company DJI and features an integral dual visual/thermal camera with 2× optical and 3× digital zoom along with an attachment for optional equipment such as a beacon, speaker or spotlight. Claimed endurance is 25-29 minutes depending on the attachment carried, with an operating ceiling of 19,685 ft (6,000 m) and a line-of-sight (LOS) control range of 8km depending on the environment. The system also offers encryption for improved security. (Source: Jane’s)
31 Mar 20. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) has completed the first production-representative MQ-9B SkyGuardian® Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA). First flight of this aircraft took place on March 30, 2020 at GA-ASI’s Flight Operations Facility in El Mirage, California.
“With first flight of the production-representative aircraft, we remain on schedule for delivering MQ-9B Protector to the RAF,” said Linden Blue, CEO, GA-ASI. Protector RG Mk1 is being procured for the UK Royal Air Force’s configuration of SkyGuardian. “Protector revolutionizes the long-endurance RPA market by providing true all-weather capability, and NATO-standard Type-Certification to enable flexible operations in civil airspace,” said Blue.
The new SkyGuardian, known within GA-ASI as BC03, is a company aircraft that is being utilized for ground and flight testing to collect airworthiness certification data starting with flight loads and aircraft performance testing. The results from the tests will form the Type Certification Exposition needed to achieve the Military Type Certificate for the Protector platform.
“As the lead customer, we are tracking all of the important developments of this ground-breaking, remotely-piloted aircraft,” said RAF Group Captain Shaun Gee, Protector RG Mk1 Programme Director. “The Military Type Certificate is a particularly important milestone because it’s a foundational step towards the Protector RPA being approved to fly in unsegregated airspace.”
The multi-mission MQ-9B is built for all-weather performance with lightning protection, damage tolerance, and a de-icing system. SkyGuardian, as well as the maritime SeaGuardian®, features a GA-ASI-developed Detect and Avoid System (DAAS).
According to GA-ASI President David R. Alexander, BC03 will be followed by BC04 (also known as UK1), which will be the first Protector aircraft to be delivered to the RAF. “Production has already begun on BC04 and prior to delivery, it will be used for Combined System Test and weapons testing,” said Alexander.
In addition to the RAF, MQ-9B has been selected by the Australian Government for the Australian Defence Force (ADF) under Project Air 7003. The Government of Belgium has also approved Belgian Defense to negotiate the acquisition of GA-ASI’s MQ-9B.
26 Mar 20. Malaysia receives first batch of donated ScanEagle UAVs from US. Malaysia received the first six of 12 ScanEagle 2 UAVs in late February 2020. Malaysia has taken delivery of the first 6 of 12 Insitu ScanEagle 2 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – along with associated equipment – that were gifted by the United States under Washington’s Maritime Security Initiative (MSI) programme. The first batch of platforms and equipment was delivered in late February, the Malaysian Chief of Defence Force General Affendi Buang told Jane’s. The remaining six UAVs are expected to be handed over in 2022.
The package includes training and maintenance and the ability to operate the UAVs for up to 2,000 hours for the duration of the programme.
Gen Affendi pointed out, however, that the recently acquired ScanEagles will not be used to conduct surveillance flights as part of the military’s response to the government’s ‘stay-at-home’ order to limit the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus.
“We will be using commercial drones for the surveillance flights as they are more suitable for the urban environments where most of the non-compliance is occurring,” said Gen Affendi when asked about his statement on 23 March that the military will be using UAVs for Covid-19 operations.
The delivery of the ScanEagles came at a time of political upheaval in Malaysia of late that led to a new administration being sworn in on 1 March. All 12 ScanEagles are to be operated by the Royal Malaysian Navy’s (RMN’) 601 Squadron, which was stood up in November 2018.
When the RMN first announced in November 2018 that it was getting the ScanEagles, it said Washington was only providing six UAVs and associated equipment under the MSI programme, which was initiated by the US in 2015.
However, the Pentagon announced in June 2019 that Malaysia was getting a total of 12 of 34 ScanEagle units ordered from Insitu. Apart from Malaysia, the contract also covered UAV deliveries to Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. (Source: Jane’s)
31 Mar 20. UK stands-up ‘swarming drones’ development unit. The UK Royal Air Force (RAF) has stood-up an experimental unit dedicated to developing an operational ‘swarming drones’ capability, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) told Jane’s. 216 Squadron was reactivated at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire on 1 April, the MoD said. Previously, the ministry explained that the unit will be tasked with bringing the RAF’s “ambitious” swarming drones capability into service and continue its development.
As previously reported by Jane’s , the then-Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson said in February 2019 that by the end of that year the RAF would operationally field “swarm squadrons of network-enabled drones capable of confusing and overcoming enemy air-defence systems”. In July 2019 the then-Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier clarified the minister’s comments by saying that 216 Squadron would be stood-up by the end of the year to develop the concept, with the capability itself to be delivered by about July, with further development to follow.
This is still the MoD’s stated intention. However, Jane’s understands that 216 Squadron has been reformed with minimal manning for now, and that work is ongoing to assess the effects of the current coronavirus pandemic on future plans, manning, and timelines.
In terms of the potential solution to the ‘swarming drones’ requirement, the RAF has previously said that the timelines meant it would not be looking to develop a bespoke platform but would instead be using something that was already available. No further details have been provided for commercial confidentiality reasons.
While the near-term timelines and milestones for 216 Squadron and the wider swarming drone capability are currently subject to developments with the ongoing coronavirus emergency, the MoD noted earlier that progress during recent trials has exceeded expectations in several unspecified areas. A source familiar with the trials noted to Jane’s that the results so far were “looking promising”. (Source: Jane’s)
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.