Researchers supported by France’s Defense Ministry are working to develop a more effective surveillance drone that’s also less prone to detection by its imitation of birds or insects.
L’Agence de l’innovation de défense (AID), a section of France’s Defense Ministry that encourages and finances development of new, military-applicable technologies, is backing the project. It has thrown its weight behind the stealth drone known as Biofly, which has already produced craft that resemble a bird and dragonfly-ish insect. The specific program the prototypes arose from were AID’s biomimetrics section, which studies biological organisms for the development materials or systems.
In this case, that involved learning how winged creatures of nature might allow data-collecting UAVs to do their work without being seen, or be identified if they are.
First to arise from that effort was a drone dubbed Bionic Bird (a choice thrusting the Defense Ministry into flagrant violation of France’s standing “Toubon Law,” which stipulates French as the “language of the republic” and obligatory in all official discourse and documentation). That Oiseau Bionique (taking no risks over here) is made of apolymer body outfitted with flapping carbon fiber wings. The motion was not only designed to allow the craft to pass easier as a bird while it spies from the sky, but also to increase its performance efficiency.
Recent improvements have given rise to an updated version of the UAV, as well as the insect-like variant. Though still a work in progress, officials at France’s Defense Ministry have been encouraged by the promising efficiencies of flight the drone has already attained, as well as the continued on-loading of tech that will include high-resolution cameras and effective body stabilizers to offset the flapping motion of the wings.
“These improvements have been made notably in the addition of piloting assistance, automation of flight plans like straight-line trajectory, varying speed capacities, the possibility of quasi-stationary hovering, yet also an increase in the velocity of these drones,” France’s Defense Ministry explains in a web page on the craft.
Initially the creation of the Institute of Movement Sciences of the University of Aix in Marseille, the project now also involves the Lorraine Laboratory for Research in Computer Science and its Applications, as well as AID monitors. In addition to adding more tech apps to the craft, researchers are also working to improve its propulsion system and various flight capabilities.
The Defense Ministry is already enthusiastic about the project’s promise.
“Biofly fulfills several military requirements, notably the drone’s stealth while in operation, as well as maximized performance of several drone categories: speed with the endurance of fixed-wing drones, and hovering capacities of rotor drones,” the site notes.
Its biomimetrics foundations will permit France’s Defense Ministry to use Biofly drones in ways neither fixed-wing nor rotor-powered craft allow, using a vehicle that punches above its weight category.
“It presents numerous advantages to the (operating) soldier on the ground,” the site says, “notably its stealth, its 50 g. lightness, and capacity to be flown using a smartphone.”