The high technological flights of the Spanish drone industry

The continuous advancement of technology and its reduction in costs has boosted the flight of the drone industry. Since the first uses of this type of aircraft, in the 1960s, in reconnaissance missions by the United States Army, up to the present day there has been a growth in its use, something possible thanks to the integration of advanced sensors, intelligence artificial, machine learning techniques... an arsenal of innovation that is translating into improved performance and greater flexibility to adapt to a wide variety of services. The leading powers have traditionally been the United States and China, the first in the military field and the second in the manufacture of consumer drones, especially for recreational use. But our country, in line with the rest of Europe, has experienced notable growth in activity in recent years. To get an idea, in 2014, when the first regulations regulating the use of these flying machines were approved, there were 54 professional operators and 109 pilots registered with the State Aviation Safety Agency, while today, according to data provided to this newspaper by the public body, are 64,866 operators and 89,619 pilots. From the economic point of view, the potential of the national industry is not negligible. It is estimated that it will reach 1,220 million euros in 2035 and exceed 1,500 million in 2050, according to the Strategic Plan for the development of the civil drone sector 2018-2021, which ensures that the United States and Europe are at the forefront of research projects that are grouped into large programs in which organizations, institutions and public and private companies participate. "Spain assumes a relevant role within European programs through its companies and research centers," the document adds. Antidio Viguria, director of the Avionics and Systems division of the Advanced Center for Aerospace Technologies (Catec), confirms that at a European level, Spain is a relevant country in terms of innovation. “We excel in technologies associated with aerial robots capable of responding dynamically to changes in the environment, detecting obstacles, etc.,” he says. He gives the example of the Piloting project, coordinated by Catec and financed by the European program H2020, in which thirteen partners from six countries participate. "We are developing aerial robots for inspection of bridges, viaducts and tunnels to improve the quality of said inspections, reduce their risk and make them more efficient and economical," he details. The project began in January 2020 and ends in December 2023. The Piloting project, coordinated by Catec, carries out tests with aerial robots for the inspection of civil infrastructure Another aspect in which Spain stands out is in the integration of drones in space. "Spanish entities have participated in numerous projects," says Viguria. This is the case of U-Elcome, endowed with 17 million euros, which brings together 50 entities from Spain, France, Poland and Italy. And it is that, as indicated by the Spanish Association of Defense, Security, Aeronautics and Space Technologies (Tedae), our country is very well positioned in innovation because it moves a lot looking for European funds. "Other countries have more national funding while Spain turns more to these international funds, although an effort is being made to improve the funds dedicated to innovation," says Sara Bellido, deputy delegate of the Tedae Aviation Committee. She gives the example of the Aeronautical Technology Program, which in its 2022 call is endowed with 80 million euros from the Ministry of Science and Innovation through the CDTI. Among the objectives of the program is the strengthening of national R&D&i capacities to position Spain as a benchmark in the field of unmanned, intelligent aircraft and connected systems. “The topics that are most researched in Spain are aircraft electrification, autonomy improvement, sensor innovation, as well as the manufacture of payloads and small-sized thermal cameras so that they can be shipped on UAS,” says Bellido. Unlike the Old Continent, where large drones are encouraged, the expert says that we are leaders in small systems. Challenges Isabel Buatas, president of Expodronica, considers that interesting developments are being made in Spain in software and hardware. "At first focused on the military field, but progress is also being made in the civil sphere," says the expert. In her opinion, Spain is one of the best places to test, but she stresses the need for strong public-private collaboration. In the pending tasks section, Viguria, from Catec, misses a greater transfer, that is, that the research is transferred to the industrial sector: "We have knowledge and we would need a governmental and industrial impulse to transform it into products and services". Aertec, specialized in aerospace technology and with an international presence, is one of those Spanish firms that markets innovative solutions. It offers three models of fixed-wing unmanned aerial systems, with its own design and technology. The Tarsis 25 "because of its size and features, it is oriented to the civil and security field," says Pedro Becerra, corporate director of Aerospace & Defense at Aertec. The Tarsis 75, with twelve hours of autonomy, is focused on military, security and civil applications, while the Tarsis 120 is designed for offensive military operations, since it can carry weapons. «The control, navigation and guidance system is an in-house development at the forefront. We also use modern electrification techniques,” says Becerra. "In security, broadcast and communications systems we are applying more and more artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies," he adds. Aertec's Tarsis 75 is used for military, security and civil applications The incorporation of these technologies offers advantages in terms of security, as demonstrated in the Safeterm project, sponsored by the European Defense Agency and developed by Aertec and GMV . "The aircraft autonomously determines alternative flight termination areas in the event of failure of autonomy or of the remote pilot's ability to control," they explain. Indra is another of the national giants involved in this field through the development of a set of technologies that seek to provide a global response to the challenges posed by drones. It has a family of unmanned aerial and naval vehicles, prepared to cover a large number of missions. Targus stands out in its portfolio, which, according to the company, is the largest drone that has been developed in Spain to date. With a wingspan of almost 12 meters and a maximum takeoff weight of 1.2 tons, it can be flown with or without a pilot on board, depending on your convenience . "It has an advanced radar and mission system to support maritime and forestry surveillance operations, land use control and environmental protection, among many other tasks," they underline from Indra. The system has been developed within the Civil UAVS Initiative program launched by the Xunta de Galicia to promote the development of innovative applications related to drones that improve the lives of citizens and the services that the administration provides them. Indra's Targus is the largest drone developed in Spain. It has a wingspan of almost 12 meters To guarantee the protection of airports, critical infrastructure and any military deployment against the presence of unauthorized drones, the company has created an anti-drone system that has demonstrated its capabilities in real operations, such as the NATO Summit held in Madrid. A digitized platform for unmanned traffic management completes its catalog. The facilities of Ventor Innovations are located in the Madrid municipality of Moralzarzal, an SME of six workers with a marked technological character, creator of innovative drones. Founded in 2019, its first product is the V-Raptor, an eagle-shaped, fixed-wing aircraft that has no vertical surfaces, giving it better aerodynamics and making it more like a bird. In addition, the fuselage has been covered with a vinyl of real photographs of the bird of prey. It is used for bird deterrence, preventing them from being killed in wind farms and power lines. "Imitates Bonelli's eagle, which is very territorial, and creates an effect of permanence in the area where it has flown," explains Emilio Martín, the firm's CEO. The drone is also used for incognito surveillance (traffic, fire detection, military environments...) thanks to its gyro-stabilized cameras with 40x zoom magnification and its artificial intelligence unit capable of detecting cars, boats, people in the water, etc. sources of fire and intensity. "In the case of vehicles, you can read the license plate (up to 20 simultaneously) and register it in real time," details the CEO. But the jewel in the crown is V-Pelcan (for logistics transport) and Altacab (air taxi with capacity for two people), still in the development phase, which try to offer an ecological alternative. "They have a dissociation engine that allows the production of hydrogen 'in situ' from liquid ammonia at low pressure," they say from the company. Diverse proposals, promoted by private companies and public bodies, which contribute to the Spanish aeronautical industry taking off in the development of high-tech drones.

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