Together with the Ministry of Defense, the Almelo company Boessenkool is developing a mega drone for the last tactical mile. By deploying unmanned multiple rotor aircraft for wounded and cargo transport, security in peace and war times increases.
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It is a beautiful device that they designed in Almelo at machine factory Boessenkool. The huge drone is much bigger than the home, garden, and kitchen items you can order online in China. It flies with a pilot or autonomously. You can hang a cargo net or a stretcher under it. And if the GPS fails, the drone simply finds its way, with the help of a self-developed secondary navigation system. The cargo drone built in the Netherlands has a top speed of 70 kilometers per hour. The lifting weight, the total weight that the drone can lift including cargo, is more than 500 kilos. It can last half an hour on a full battery of 100 kilos and can fly 30 kilometers back and forth.
Laser or QR
As soon as it reports at the delivery location, the drone remains in the air until someone on the ground gives a reception signal. This can be done with a laser, but also with a QR code. Eelco Osse, director at Boessenkool, is proud: “This is just the prototype.” Osse says that the plan to build a mega drone originated about ten years ago. Boessenkool makes many machines for the agricultural world. Initially, as a customer for the drone, they had the farming business in mind. Osse: “The drone is a replacement for the tractor. For example to spray fields with crops. ”
Lead in the air
However, the project also drew the attention of the Dutch army. Defense is looking for ways to robotize processes within the army, says Major Peter Butter, Staff Officer Concept Development & Experimentation. Due to an increasing staff shortage, solutions are eagerly sought to be able to do more with fewer people. According to Butter, a drone for performing logistical tasks fits perfectly within that picture. There are all kinds of plans, but one of the ideas is that the cargo drone from Boessenkool will soon be deployed in the area they call ‘the last tactical mile’ at the Ministry of Defense. This is the zone between the front and the security lines. Butter says this is a notoriously sensitive area with a lot of ‘lead in the air’.
Transporting ammunition and other goods is intensive and dangerous. Enemy units attack supply lines to disrupt the opponent’s logistics. Osse: “If a drone is shot out of the air, you lose the device and the cargo. But financial loss is always better than human loss. ” By entrusting tasks to a drone, the lives of helicopter pilots, truck drivers, and ground forces are less at risk. Osse says that converting the drone from civil to military applications takes a lot of effort. To pass the certification, every screw of the cargo drone must meet battlefield requirements. But the cooperation with the Dutch army also has many advantages. Osse: “The legislation for drones is lagging behind the developments. Above all, a lot is not allowed now. Together with Defense, you can initiate changes more quickly. ”
Fantasy is limitation
Test flights have now been made at the NLR training ground of the Ministry of Defense. Butter says the initial results are very promising. Now the drone can already handle heavy, rigid loads. Moving loads, such as injured people, must also be able to fly with the drone within a year. “That is our dot on the horizon.” In addition, to use in war situations, the drone can also be used in many other harsh conditions. Think of NGOs that want to bring relief goods to a hard-to-reach place in a disaster area. The transport of injured people is also an option here. Naturally, this practice of peace also has a less peaceful downside. “You can also imagine that a weapon or reconnaissance system is dropped with the drone.” Butter says that fantasy alone limits all possibilities.
In the coming period, a lot of work will be done on the successor to the prototype that is already flying around. Osse says that something else still needs to be done before the first cargo drones go into production. Together with network supplier Nokia, the company is considering setting up its own traffic center for drones. The sense and avoid system must be perfected so that the drones do not collide with each other or other air traffic. We are also still working on piloting the drones beyond the line of sight. According to Butter, a similar drone is not available elsewhere in the world. Not even at the Chinese DJI that currently controls the drone market. The fact that the Ministry of Defense prefers to work with a Dutch supplier has an important strategic cause, says Osse: “A so-called false floor has been discovered in the operating system of some Chinese drones.” With this hidden control system, the Chinese could track drones remotely.
When Peter Butter recently showed the drone to an American colleague during an exercise, he was quite impressed. Butter: “He said, ‘you are further than we’.” Machinefabriek Boessenkool is meanwhile bombarded with requests from parties interested in drone-on-steroids, as Butter describes it. Director Osse has great expectations of his cargo drone from Dutch soil: “This will change the appearance of both the battlefield and the field.”
Defense on Bright Day
The Ministry of Defense was present at the largest tech festival in the Netherlands: Bright Day, with drones and VR training courses. More than 22 thousand visitors saw the latest gadgets and electronics used by the Deflab of Defense.