Rahul Dutta
Simple, Curious and occasionally Insightful

Israeli drone tech beats swords into ploughshares to solve real-world problems.

Military tech: can’t live without them

What picture does the word “military technology” bring to your mind? Most probably war scenes and destruction. But you will be pleasantly surprised to know how many military tools we use in our day to day life unknowingly. Of course, metaphorically speaking life is also a war.

The list includes lifesaving penicillin, ambulances, blood transfusion technology; communication techs like internet, GPS; household crisis busters like duct tapes, superglue; wearables like wristwatches, aviator sunglasses and many more.

The famous quote by Seneca “A sword never kills anybody; it is a tool in the killer’s hand” holds particularly true for military technologies used for civilian purposes.

One military technology that has been garnering a lot of attention from the tech world recently is drone technology. It is now thought that over 50 countries have employed military drones in one form or another since 2013.

Notwithstanding that regulating drones has become a headache for governments, they have many more humanitarian usages than one might think. One shining example is Zipline, a drone-based blood delivery company operating in Rwanda backed by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

What is a drone?

Typical drone is an unmanned aircraft made of light composite materials to reduce weight and increase maneuverability. Drones come in all shapes and sizes, with the largest being mostly used for military purposes like the Predator drone or the unmanned aircraft with fixed wings and requiring short runways.

Evolution of drone technology

The early drone began its flight as an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to survey battlefields or go on missions deemed too “dull, dirty or dangerous” for human beings. The first well-documented report was of Austria sending unmanned bomb-filled balloons to bomb Venice in 1849.

Nazi Germany pushed the technology forward during WWII with a fleet of weaponized UAVs, but the US military is perhaps the most notorious for its drone use in more recent years.

Drone technology has progressed a lot since its beginning. It has been used by defence organizations and tech-savvy consumers for quite some time. However, the benefits of this technology extend well beyond just these sectors.

What the market says

Global Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV)/Commercial Drone Market size is projected to touch $2.1 billion by end of 2023 and expected to record compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 19.1%.

The increasing acceptance of drone-based technologies in various end-use sectors is anticipated to promote industry trends. Further, growing investment in these vehicles in developing markets is increasing the significance of many future applications.

Defence industries- a catalyst of Israeli technological innovation

The line between defence technology and civilian technology is blurring.  Israel has an enviable track record of building successful companies from military technologies.

Israel’s defence industries have been a great catalyst for technological innovation. In areas like water technologies, robotics and cybersecurity they are already making long lasting and positive social impacts.

Startup Nation is well on its way to becoming a powerhouse in the development of commercial drones and related technologies. Majority 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.

A closer look at three of the most promising drone-based Israeli startups will reveal why the hype around drone technology is not misplaced.

Taranis – increasing crop productivity

On a farm spread over multiple hectors, it is next to impossible to collect enough data about the crop health manually. There is an urgent need of a monitoring system to collect all the relevant crop information at the shortest possible time.

A tech company Taranis, founded by children of farmers, modified the drone technology to create the simplest and most comprehensive, in the season crop monitoring system in the world.

Taranis combines field imagery at 3 different levels namely satellite images, leaf level imagery with drones, and AI-based deep learning technology to recognize crop health issues.

Their system uses sophisticated computer vision, data science and deep learning algorithms to detect early symptoms of weeds, uneven emergence, nutrient deficiencies, disease/insect infestations, and equipment problems.

Their technology is so good that it helps farmers increase crop yields and cut costs by giving them a way to effectively monitor their fields, make informed decisions and then act on them.

As per UN population prospects, the world population is projected to grow by ~30 per cent from 7.2 billion today to 9.1 billion in 2050. The biggest challenge will be to maximize agricultural productivity in the face of ever decreasing cultivable land and other inputs.

Monitoring a soybean field with Taranis.

Taranis contributes in this global quest of food security with their unique solution to pre-emptively avert crop yield loss due to insects, crop disease, weeds and nutrient deficiencies.

Airobotics– enhancing operational control

Workplace fatalities are a big concern in industries like construction, mining, oil and gas etc. Apart from the loss of life and resulting disabilities, workers’ comp claims cost companies and taxpayers billions of dollars a year.

Although some situations require human inspection, many workplace injuries can be eliminated by simply keeping people out of harm’s way. The solution for many potentially dangerous situations is to harness the power of drones.

Airobotics, founded by Meir Kliner and Ran Krauss, is one of the world pioneers in fully autonomous unmanned drone solution to enhance operational control and efficiency.

The Airobotics provide end-to-end drone solution going far beyond standard drone options. The platform was designed and built keeping in mind the needs of industries such as energy, mining and oil & gas by providing a safe, cost-effective solution available on-site and on-demand.

Pic Courtesy- Airobotics

Their “drone in a box” system is intended to be a platform that is fully automated, industrial grade, and multi-purpose. This gives project and site managers a way to access hard-to-reach or accessible-but-dangerous locations.

From a safety and security standpoint, this technology minimizes worksite hazards by sending the faster drone in first to assess the situation before putting humans in harm’s way.

Edgybees– improving disaster response

Everyone is aware of the devastating consequences of natural calamities like- flood, storm, earthquake, landslide or fire. According to the world bank data in the past 30 years, the world has lost more than 2.5 million people and almost $4 trillion because of natural disasters.

While it is impossible to predict the “acts of God”, it is possible to prepare for disaster management.  A tool that has emerged to help effective disaster response to prevent loss of lives and properties is augmented reality in combination with drone technology.

During the post-Hurricane Irma in Florida, the Israeli company Edgybees rolled out its augmented reality tech for fire, police and public-safety pilots. And it had a big impact on disaster relief.

Edgybees adds augmented reality (AR) overlays to live or recorded video enabling drone operators to see more than what the cameras transmit. This makes it useful before, during, and after a natural disaster.

Edgybees Streetview

It is the first AR technology designed for high-speed moving platforms. Edgybees Augmented Real-time Intelligence™ fuses computer vision, multi-sensor data analytics and 3D video generation to provide a simple visual layer of highly accurate, real-time information.

The result is instant clarity to the first responders during any disaster.

Final thoughts

A single technology or innovation rarely causes disruption. It’s typically when two or more technologies converge the wheel transformation move.

All the above example reaffirms that when technologies combine amazing innovation happens. Combination of drone tech to AI, high definition imagery, augmented reality has a great potential to solve real-world problems.

Both Taranis and Airobotics have its roots in defence. Israeli defence sector is continuously adding technology, innovation and trained manpower to the job market.

As the Shakespearian saying goes “Nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so”. Using drones for humanitarian projects may force us to reconsider our prejudices about some military technologies and could foster greater acceptance of the technology.

The present global military spending is $1.7 trillion. The world may become a better place even if a fraction of this investment results in technologies suitable for peaceful civilian use.

About the Author
Dr Rahul Dutta is a leadership fellow at the Israel Asia Center. He is currently working as a postdoctoral scientist at the Hebrew University Jerusalem. Rahul is a recipient of the prestigious DAAD fellowship offered by the German Academic Exchange Service to pursue his PhD from the Technische Universität München.
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