Sponsored by The British Robotics Seed Fund
21 Jan 21. US Air Force pilots could fly Agility Prime aircraft in 2021. US Air Force (USAF) pilots could fly as early as April or May the electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft that are being offered for the service’s Agility Prime programme, said Will Roper, who formally resigned on 20 January as assistant secretary for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (AT&L), on 19 January.
The service’s former acquisition executive told Janes that the service is in discussions to get USAF pilots into Agility Prime aircraft, and possibly have them flying these platforms no later than mid-2021. The USAF, he said, is hoping to make specific military installations that have good control over airspace available for long-term testing with companies as they proceed through the Agility Prime air race to certification milestones. These milestones, he said, are different missions that can be performed for the USAF with participating aircraft.
Roper said other US military service chiefs have reached out to the USAF about exploring missions with Agility Prime aircraft. Working with other Pentagon services, he said, opens additional installation and airspace opportunities. Roper declined to say which installations were being considered for use by Agility Prime aircraft.
Lift Aircraft is participating in the Agility Prime air race with its Hexa optionally piloted, amphibious 18-rotor aircraft. Company CEO Matt Chasen told Janes on 20 January that the company has not planned which ranges it will use, and when. (Source: Jane’s)
16 Jan 21. US Army taps industry for autonomous drones to resupply troops. The U.S. Army is tapping industry for drones that can deliver supplies to infantry brigade combat teams in the field, according to a request for information posted to the federal contracting website Beta.Sam.Gov on Jan. 13.
Army Futures Command’s Sustainment Capabilities Development and Integration Directorate as well as the Marine Corps’ Capabilities Development and Integration office began looking in earnest at a concept called the “Joint Tactical Autonomous Aerial Resupply System,” about two years ago with the hope of getting a capabilities development document signed in three years.
But the concept has been alive for much longer. In 2018, the JTAARS concept was on an evaluation list for the Joint Warfighting Assessment in Grafenwoehr, Germany.
The services plan to field the system by 2026.
The drone should already be technologically mature to demonstrate capability, weigh less than a Group 3 drone — or less than approximately 1,300 pounds — and be able to haul up to 800 pounds of supplies to the field to provide an organic sustainment capability for infantry brigade combat teams in a multidomain operational environment, according to the request for information.
The drone should also be able to operate in a 110-mile radius at day or night, and in bad weather conditions, as well as plug into current and future tactical command-and-control systems, the RFI read.
Setup time to launch a package should take 15 minutes, and two to four soldiers should be able to lift it out of a transport container, the RFI said. This means the system should be lightweight and easy to use, the document explained.
The drone must automatically launch, navigate in GPS-denied environments, drop cargo, land and return to its point of origin, the document added. The system should also be able to avoid obstacles and pick optimal flight paths and landing sites on its own, the RFI explained.
Turnaround time between missions should be minimal, according to the RFI, and the system should be modular and open in order to integrate a variety of payloads and software needed, but it also must be secure from cyberattacks.
The Army and Marine Corps have worked on autonomous resupply concepts for over a decade. Perhaps most well-known is the evaluation of Lockheed Martin’s K-MAX unmanned helicopter, which had the capability to sling-load cargo. Two of the aircraft were evaluated for several years in Afghanistan beginning in late 2011; one aircraft crashed.
The services completed the operational assessment but did not pursue the capability beyond that.
While the Army has focused on robotic ground convoys for resupply — including developing leader-follower capability — it’s expected that autonomous resupply will happen in the air before ground systems provide sustainment due to the increased complication of navigating unpredictable terrain and obstacles on land.
And as the commercial sector — such as Amazon and Google — continues to invest in the drone delivery market, systems designed for the task will become more reliable, more capable and less expensive, likely benefiting the U.S. military. That market is projected to be worth almost $29bn by the late 2020s. Responses from industry are due Feb. 12. (Source: Defense News)
15 Jan 21. American Robotics gets FAA nod to fly fully automated drones. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration granted Massachusetts-based American Robotics Inc permission to operate automated drones.
The decision limits operations to areas with light air traffic and daylight visibility and requires the drone not to exceed altitude of 400 feet.
The agency said American Robotics’ operations will provide it with critical data for use in evaluating “beyond-visual-line-of-sight,” or BVLOS operations, from offsite locations.
“Moreover, the operations will achieve a reduction in environmental impact, as they will involve a small aircraft carrying no passengers or crew, rather than a manned aircraft of significantly greater size,” the FAA said.
Calling it a seminal milestone in the drone industry, American Robotics said this approval makes its Scout System the first drone technology to be able to operate continuously without the cost of having a human operator on site. (Source: Reuters)
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.