Israel has become a powerhouse in the development of military UAVs and, increasingly, commercial UAVs and technologies as well. We take a look at some of the most exciting.
By: Brian Blum, Israel21c
The incursion into Israeli air space of an Iranian-backed drone and the subsequent Israel Air Force strike on military bases in Syria earlier this year highlighted the critical role unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, or drones) are playing on the battlefield.
Israel is the world’s largest exporter of military drones but the Startup Nation is also becoming a powerhouse in the development of commercial drones and related technologies. A growing number of drone startups – 64 of them are listed on Start-Up Nation Central’s website — focus on civilian needs from delivering pizza to monitoring industrial environments.
Here is ISRAEL21c’s list of the top 9 drone companies in Israel.
Airobotics, one of the world pioneers in fully autonomous drones, was the first company to secure permission from a civil aviation authority to fly a drone without a pilot in command.
That makes Airobotics drones ideal for monitoring tough-to-reach industrial sites like mines, ports and assets owned by oil and gas companies. Autonomous drones can be programmed to fly over a particular site every day at the same time, which saves money while minimizing human error.
At Intel, one of Airobotics’ clients in Israel, drones inspect the gas and ammonia tanks that fuel the company’s semiconductor fabrication plant, looking for leaks that could cause fires.
Since the company launched in 2015, Airobotics drones have flown some 40,000 pilotless missions. The company has raised $71 million to date. CEO Ran Krauss previously founded two other drone companies, Bladeworx and ParaZero.
Percepto’s Sparrow I is a direct competitor to the Airobotics’ Optimus. Percepto adds to the mix artificial intelligence to enhance its drone’s ability to monitor and secure industrial environments under harsh rain, snow and dust conditions.
Percepto honed its real-time machine vision and AI technology as a defense industry supplier; the Sparrow is the company’s move into commercial markets. Because it’s autonomous, the Sparrow can operate around the clock, collecting data in real time.
Permanent mounted sensors and a rechargeable battery make the Sparrow an almost out-of-the-box drone solution (and while in its box, the base conducts autonomous “health checks”). The Sparrow I flying time is around 40 minutes.
Founded in 2013, Percepto has received backing from US billionaire Mark Cuban, Chinese angel investor Xu Xiapong, and Richard Parsons, formerly of Citibank and TimeWarner.
When you need to transport injured soldiers from urban war zones where helicopters can’t fly, call in Urban Aeronautics’ Cormorant (formerly the AirMule). This drone takes off and lands vertically, has a flying speed of 100 miles per hour and can carry up to 1,400 pounds of cargo up to 30 miles.
The Cormorant’s non-exposed rotors are safer in environments where there are a lot of people. Urban Aeronautics is working to develop an unmanned version for the Israel Defense Forces and possibly the US military, as well as manned drones for civilian air taxis and MedEvac applications under a subsidiary, Metro Skyways.
Flytrex does not make drones but the software to control them. The company is targeting not enemy forces but deliveries of packages to consumers. Flytrex operators can set pick-up and delivery points and see information about weather, topography and other drones in the air. The entire Flytrex backend is cloud-hosted.
“It’s one thing to design a nice drone to deliver goods, but it’s much more complicated to take charge of the whole system,” Flytrex CEO Yariv Bash told ISRAEL21c.
Flytrex has tested its system with the Ukrainian Postal Service and with a company delivering pharmaceuticals to hard-to-access locations in Africa. Its latest partner is AHA, an on-demand goods service in Reykjavik, Iceland.
Edgybees adds augmented reality (AR) to enable drone operators to see more than what the cameras transmit. It’s the first AR technology designed for high-speed moving platforms. Edgybees presents the combined real and virtual worldview on the drone operator’s smartphone or tablet.
First proven in post-Hurricane Irma in Florida, the company has rolled out its AR tech for fire, police and public-safety pilots into a single control app, First Response.
The Israeli-American startup works with more than a dozen fire and police departments in the United States, as well as United Hatzalah in Israel. A seed round announced at the end of February is earmarked for expanding to new verticals including defense, smart cities, automotive, construction, urban planning and broadcast media.
Kiryat Ono-based ParaZero’s SafeAir system monitors the flight operation of almost any type of drone. If necessary, it triggers a parachute to enable descent at a controlled rate while shutting down the rotors to prevent the parachute getting entangled or injuries when it lands. SafeAir also warns bystanders on the ground and communicates with the local unmanned traffic system.
While parachutes aren’t required on drones in the United States, ParaZero says it’s anticipating future FAA standards. ParaZero has sold more than 1,400 SafeAir systems to date, starting at a price of just over $2,000.
Contractors working on large construction sites are increasingly using drones to visualize progress. SiteAware (formerly Dronomy) sells off-the-shelf drones and its own bundled software that creates a virtual replica of a job site that can be accessed via a web browser from any remote location.
As the drones fly low over an actual job site, the 3D model is updated and data is stored on the cloud. Contractors can add 3D annotations to the models, and SiteAware can superimpose two 3D models from consecutive scans to highlight changes (or lack thereof).
The company reports that one developer used this feature to discover a contractor requesting payment had actually done no work on the site.
SiteAware has raised money from Global Brain Corporation, Battery Ventures and Japanese real estate developer Mitsui Fudosan’s 31VENTURES fund, among others.
Think of RT’s SkyStar as a drone that doesn’t go anywhere. RT makes tactical “aerostats” – essentially hot-air balloons filled with surveillance equipment that hover above the field of operation for public safety, police or military applications.
Like a moving drone, a SkyStar aerostat is controlled from the ground by an operator and video data is transmitted wirelessly to the base station. RT describes its aerostats as complementary UAVs in protecting fixed sites such as military bases, temporary camps, strategic facilities and border crossings.
RT’s SkyStar 180 can operate for three days straight with only a 20-minute break for re-inflation. RT has sold SkyStar systems to Israel, Afghanistan, Mexico, Thailand, Canada, Africa and Russia.
BlueBird Aero Systems
BlueBird Aero Systems manufactures small tactical UAVs designed for both military and commercial uses (law enforcement, disaster control, search-and-rescue and homeland security).
BlueBird’s drones can be operated from a single, unified ground station, gathering real-time intelligence rather than carrying weapons payloads. The BlueBird MicroB weighs only 1.5 kg and can fly for an hour at a range of 10 km. The SpyLite, at 9 kg, has four hours of flight time. The Boomerang, BlueBird’s first long-endurance mini-UAV to be powered by fuel cell technology, can run for more than 10 hours.
In 2012, Mumbai-based Piramal Enterprises acquired a 28 percent stake in the company. BlueBird’s drones have been sold to Ethiopia, India and Chile.