Orion 2 tethered drone hexacopter development announced

Nov. 16, 2020
Lightweight yet extremely durable, the Orion 2 is designed as a quick-deploy system (automated push-button takeoff and landing) that can stay in the air for 24 hours.

In this week’s roundup from the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, which highlights some of the latest news and headlines in unmanned vehicles and robotics, a new tethered drone hexacopter begins development, BAE Systems lands contracts to develop technology for the U.S. Army, and Walmart launches a pilot program for self-driving vehicles.

Elistair's new Orion 2 UAS provides round-the-clock surveillance for up to 24 hours at a time

Tethered drone solutions provider Elistair has announced the development of its new Orion 2 tethered UAS for military, government, and industry users.

Described as a “true persistent surveillance platform,” the Orion 2 hexacopter delivers round-the-clock surveillance for up to 24 hours at a time.

“Small, unmanned multi-rotor systems are great if you want a hover-and-stare capability, but they’re also notoriously short on battery life,” says Timothée Penet, CTO and co-founder of Elistair.

“Powered tethering stations, like our Safe 2 and Ligh-T 4, offer a solution by increasing a platform’s time in the air—and that’s great for many missions. But what if you need to be on station for a whole day?” Well, that’s what the Orion 2 is built for.

Lightweight yet extremely durable, the Orion 2 is designed as a quick-deploy system (automated push-button takeoff and landing) that can stay in the air for 24 hours. Previously, this type of endurance was only possible using a helium-filled tactical aerostat, which was a much larger platform and came with a very complicated logistical train.

“We developed redundancies at every level to ensure that the Orion 2 could stay up that long,” explains Pierre-Moana Levesque, R&D Director at Elistair.

“For example, we made it IP54; we optimized the lifespan of the components, including the motors; and we added a safety battery that could recharge in the air.”

The new Orion 2 is considered an improvement over the original Orion drone, which was impressive in its own right. The original Orion helped secure the Ryder Cup in Sept. 2018, flying over crowds of 300,000 attendees for eight to 11 hours a day. The UAS has also been used by the French police, British military, and Singaporean government.

Equipped with a micro-tether of 330 feet, the Orion 2 flies higher than its predecessor and surveils more ground. Capable of carrying up to 4.5 pounds of payload, the UAS can also serve simultaneously as an ISR and telecom platform.

The Orion 2 can also stream georeferenced electro-optical and infrared imagery at the same time. Thanks to a new fiber optics cable option, the UAS can deploy 4G/5G communications nodes as well.

“The Orion 2 tethered drone is a clear advance over the very capable Orion in terms of persistence, logistical footprint, and data control. We are thrilled by this product launch,” says Guilhem de Marliave, CEO and co-founder of Elistair.

BAE Systems awarded multiple contracts to develop key tech for Army's A-Team program

The U.S. Army has awarded BAE Systems multiple contracts to develop key technologies for its Advanced Teaming Demonstration Program (A-Team).

BAE Systems was the only company awarded contracts for three of the program’s four focus areas, which are designed to advance manned and unmanned teaming (MUM-T) capabilities that are expected to be important components in the U.S. Army’s Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program.

The U.S. Army developed the A-Team program to create an automated system to offload the cognitive burden of pilots while allowing them to command swarms of UAS, all in an effort to combat the increasingly complex, contested, and communication-denied battlespace presented by near-peer adversaries.

“Our mature autonomy technology, which is the basis of our offering for the A-Team program, will greatly increase the warfighter’s ability to have a complete view of the battlespace and streamline decision making,” says Chris Eisenbies, product line director of the Autonomy, Control, and Estimation group at BAE Systems’ FAST Labs™.

“Future conflicts will include manned and unmanned teaming and increased automation in highly contested environments, helping to enable mission success.”

BAE Systems says that it was selected to deliver a highly automated system to provide situational awareness, information processing, resource management, and decision making that is beyond human capabilities. According to the company, these advantages become more and more important as the Army moves toward mission teams of UAS that will be controlled by pilots in real time.

Totaling $9 million, the contracts include awards for the Human Machine Interface, Platform Resource Capability Management, and Situational Awareness Management elements of the program. BAE Systems’ FAST Labs research and development team and Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) Systems business area will leverage their decades of work developing autonomy technologies to deliver this crucial technology.

To conduct simulation tests and demonstrations with products from different contractors in consideration of transition to the FVL program, the program will utilize the Future Open Rotorcraft Cockpit Environment Lab. Work for the program takes place at BAE Systems’ facilities in Burlington, Massachusetts and San Diego, California.

Walmart partners with Cruise to deliver goods using self-driving vehicles

In collaboration with Cruise, Walmart is launching a pilot program to haul groceries and other goods to suburban Phoenix customers using the General Motors-backed tech startup’s electric, self-driving vehicles.

Expected to start sometime early next year, the project will utilize battery-powered vehicles in Cruise’s test fleet in Scottsdale, Arizona.

According to Cruise, the electricity used to charge up its self-driving fleet comes entirely from renewable resources, which is in line with Walmart’s goal of curbing carbon emissions from its operations.

“Customers can place an order from their local store and have it delivered, contact-free, via one of Cruise’s all-electric self-driving cars,” says Tom Ward, Walmart’s senior vice president for customer product.

“Technology that has the potential to not only save customers time and money but also be helpful to the planet is technology we want to learn more about.”

Based in San Francisco, Cruise has been focused mainly on perfecting its autonomous fleet to carry passengers in the city.

Compiled by Brian Sprowl, Associate Editor, AUVSI

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