Though it would at first look be mistaken for a $100 Popwing, the eBee has been a mainstay within the aerial surveying and mapping trade for practically a decade. The flying wing is famend for its ease of use: plan a mission in your laptop computer, take it out to the sphere, shake it thrice after which toss it into the air. A traditional two-stick controller isn’t even choice with the eBee—however with a beginning value of $13,500, you’re most likely higher off letting the pc do the flying, anyway.
With its in depth observe document of success in civilian operations, eBee’s developer senseFly—acquired by AgEagle from French drone maker Parrot in 2021—determined to create a brand new model tailor-made for a gaggle of end-users with an much more pressing and compelling mission: the army.
After all, the tactical use of small UAS instantly conjures up pictures of a reside video feed, revealing the unhealthy guys attempting to arrange an ambush on the alternative aspect of a hill from pleasant forces. Nonetheless, as a mapping platform, the eBee is ill-suited for that kind of real-time reconnaissance. I requested AgEagle’s regional supervisor for North America, Gary Licquia, to clarify conops for the eBee within the battlefield context.
“What we’re doing with eBee is chopping out a step within the course of for these guys which are proper there on the forefront,” stated Licquia. “Proper now, they need to name in for aerial reconnaissance they usually is perhaps fifteenth in line to get a bigger asset overhead. So, as an alternative of getting to cellphone the mothership and say, ‘Hey, I want this knowledge,’ they’ve the drone with them to allow them to go forward and do it themselves.”
When the plane returns from a mission, the info could be shortly downloaded and assembled right into a map utilizing frequent software program instruments reminiscent of Pix4D React. And, the ensuing knowledge is unclassified, so it may be freely shared throughout totally different items working within the battlespace.
The eBee TAC was developed in session with army prospects and incorporates many options that might be pointless, and even counterproductive, in a civilian platform.
“We’ve built-in some security measures: now we have 256-bit encrypted communications, suppressed flight logs and a safe SD card, in order that if something occurs to it, the unhealthy guys aren’t going to have the ability to pull any helpful knowledge off the drone,” Licquia defined. “Additionally, we will fly with none radio communications in any respect. You possibly can add the mission to the drone beforehand, so it’s saved on board, and you then don’t have to speak with the drone whereas it’s performing its mission. You possibly can fly in full blackout mode, so it’s invisible by way of RF alerts.”
The plane additionally incorporates the flexibility so as to add bespoke payloads that could be required by sure army purposes by an open payload design. Licquia added: “We give them the specs by way of the scale, the load, the middle of gravity to allow them to go forward and combine it into the drone themselves.”
The eBee TAC is able to flying for as much as 90 minutes, giving it the flexibility to map practically two sq. miles at a decision of 1.5 centimeters per pixel. The eBee’s common black-and-yellow trim has been modified to a speckled black-and-white floor to camouflage the plane, which is undetectable visually and acoustically past 1,000 ft.
The inventory configuration contains an electro-optical/infrared payload incorporating a 20-megapixel seen mild digital camera in addition to 640×512 thermal imaging sensor from FLIR. Commonplace different payloads embrace the S.O.D.A. 3D seen mild digital camera that comes with an inside roll-axis gimbal to seize each nadir and indirect imagery to reinforce the standard of three-dimensional fashions constructed utilizing photogrammetry, in addition to a 24-megapixel seen mild digital camera optimized for low-light efficiency.
Equally vital for the possible army consumer is the truth that the eBee TAC is accredited to be used in delicate purposes. Certainly, the eBee is the primary fixed-wing platform to be acknowledged as a Blue UAS by the Protection Innovation Unit to be used by the USA Division of Protection.
BY PATRICK SHERMAN