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Tehran (AFP) Sept 1, 2019 - Iran on Sunday unveiled a jet-propelled drone it said is capable of finding and attacking targets far from the country's borders with precision.

Dubbed the "Kian", the unmanned aerial vehicle was designed, produced and tested by experts of the air defence force within about a year, said the head of the force, Brigadier General Alireza Sabahifard.

The drone comes in two models capable of "surveillance and reconnaissance missions and continuous flight for precision missions", state news agency IRNA quoted him as saying.

"This drone can undertake any drone missions we entrust it with... it can fly more than 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) and find its target with precision," he said.

The newly launched UAV can carry different munitions and can climb to an altitude of 5,000 metres (15,000 feet), according to state television.

"This unmanned aircraft is capable of hitting targets far from the country's borders and undertaking air defence from the enemy's territory," said Sabahifard.

The unveiling comes at a time of rising tensions with the United States, which have escalated since last year when US President Donald Trump withdrew from a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and reimposed sanctions.

Iran shot down a US Global Hawk drone with a surface-to-air missile in June for allegedly violating its airspace, an accusation the United States denies.

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Germantown MD (SPX) Aug 22, 2019 - Hughes Network Systems has announced a new joint solutions to extend mobile network connectivity using an integrated combination of VNC's deployable LTE technology with Hughes JUPITER and HM satellite systems. The new solutions support various global applications for government, militaries, first responders, and commercial Mobile Network Operators (MNOs).

"We're excited to work with Hughes to help expand high speed 4G services cost-effectively in underserved parts of the world, as well as providing the tactical edge for military and first responders," said Mohan Tammisetti, chief executive officer of VNC. "VNC developed this innovative, edge-centric approach to positively impact lives and keep critical missions connected. Additionally, a new 5G solution is on our development roadmap and we look forward to integrating it with the Hughes JUPITER platform."

For Government and Military:
Designed to provide wireless coverage for soldiers or first responders, the new Hughes HeloCell Solution integrates VNC's LTE technology with the Hughes HeloSat Solution, which provides Beyond Line of Sight (BLoS) communications on rotary-wing aircraft. For military and emergency applications, the Hughes and VNC technologies combine to form an "airborne cell tower" when installed aboard a helicopter or an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV).

The solution provides an extended cellular coverage radius of tens of kilometers, with the satellite terminal backhauling the mobile traffic to and from the network core. The solution can also scale to support more than 100 simultaneous active users on a single, layered system architecture.

"Adaptable for rotary-wing aircraft and UAVs, the HeloCell Solution is ideal for extending mobile connectivity in a disaster area or warzone," said Wayne Marhefka, senior director of business development for Hughes Defense Division.

"Together with VNC, Hughes can extend connectivity to soldiers and first response teams who need wireless communications to carry out their missions, especially in remote and disconnected environments. Integrating with our innovative HM and JUPITER Systems technology, these new cellular capabilities will help the DoD build a layered and unified communications network architecture for faster and more-informed decision-making."

For Commercial Mobile Network Operators:
The VNC LTE technology can also be integrated with the JUPITER System to backhaul mobile traffic, enabling MNOs to quickly and cost-effectively provide 4G access to people in areas unserved or underserved by terrestrial connectivity - especially in remote and hard-to-reach areas. In tests, the integrated solution sent 4G LTE traffic to the core network at speeds of 200 Mbps.

"An economically efficient way for mobile network operators to reach new customers is by backhauling 4G LTE traffic over satellite in areas where it's too expensive to build terrestrial infrastructure," said Vinay Patel, senior director, International Division at Hughes. "Now, we can offer VNC's innovative 4G LTE technology integrated with our Hughes JUPITER System to offer operators a new and cost-effective option to expand their networks."

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Baghdad (AFP) Aug 25, 2019 - Iraq's Hashed al-Shaabi accused Israel of a deadly drone attack on Sunday that left one paramilitary fighter dead, the first time the force has directly blamed the Jewish state for such a raid.

The attack struck a position held by Brigade 45, a Hashed al-Shaabi unit based near Al-Qaim about 15 kilometres (10 miles) from Iraq's western desertic border with neighbouring Syria.

It is the latest in a string of suspicious explosions and drone sightings at Hashed bases that have sparked concern of a possible proxy war between Iran, the US, and Israel on Iraqi soil -- or in its airspace.

"As part of the string of Zionist attacks on Iraq, the evil Israeli crows have returned to target the Hashed al-Shaabi, this time with two drones inside Iraqi territory," the statement said.

It said one fighter was killed and another heavily wounded, revising an earlier toll of two dead.

"This blatant attack came with air cover over the area from American planes, in addition to a large balloon to monitor the area near the site of the incident," the force added.

Blasts have been reported at four other Hashed bases since mid-July, and a fifth unit near Baghdad said on Thursday it had shot at a surveillance drone flying over its position.

The Hashed was established in 2014 from disparate armed groups and volunteers, most of them Shiite Muslims, to fight the Islamic State group.

The network has received Iranian training, but it operates officially under Iraq's armed forces and uses military unit names.

- 'Final warning' -

Brigade 45, for example, is one of several units made up of Kataib Hezbollah fighters, designated by the US as a "foreign terrorist organisation".

The group issued a "final warning" to the US last week over previous purported attacks.

"We issue a final warning to the American enemy that any new targeting of any Iraqi positions will be met with a tough, categorical response," it said in a statement.

A military source from Kataib Hezbollah told AFP on Sunday that the fighter killed in the drone attack, Abu Ali al-Dabi, was a member of the unit's rocket squad.

"He fought in Syria and was previously detained by the Americans," the source said.

Sunday's statement was the first time the Hashed formally accused Israel of involvement in a specific incident.

Its deputy leader Abu Mehdi al-Muhandis, whose virulent anti-Americanism as a militia leader earned him a US terror blacklisting, issued a statement last week fingering Washington as "the first and last entity responsible".

He said Israeli drones had entered Iraqi airspace but did not explicitly blame them for an attack at the time.

The Iraqi government is also carrying out investigations into the incidents but has yet to publish results.

The Pentagon has denied involvement, and US officials have told the New York Times that Israel has carried out multiple strikes in Iraq this month.

- 'Signal to Iran' -

Israel has not claimed responsibility but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has hinted at involvement, saying his country would "act against (Iran) whenever necessary".

"From Israel's point of view, Iran's assets in Iraq are part of a broader strategy that aims to establish a military presence and strike capability in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon," said Fanar Haddad, an Iraq expert at the National University of Singapore.

Israel has carried out several hundred bombing raids against Iranian forces and their allies in neighbouring Syria.

"The attacks in Iraq are a signal to Iran that Israel is willing and capable of extending its relentless campaign of airstrikes in Syria to Iraq and beyond," Haddad added.

On Sunday, the head of Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah movement said Israel was behind a drone attack on the group's stronghold in a southern suburb of Beirut.

mjg-ac/dco

THE NEW YORK TIMES COMPANY

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Hettermillen, Luxembourg (AFP) Aug 18, 2019 - Buzzing like a giant insect over the verdant Moselle Valley, a drone sprays fungicide over rows of vines.

Luxembourg wine producer Corinne Kox began trials of the small unmanned aircraft last month over part of her century-old family estate near the borders with France and Germany.

The test drone, guided by a pilot operating a digital control panel on the ground, sprays more accurately and less wastefully than a helicopter which her family sometimes uses, she said.

Kox, who is in her late 30s, is among the trailblazers in Europe deploying drones in wine production.

"It gives us some flexibility, especially on the slopes," she told AFP.

"With a tractor, it is sometimes dangerous to drive right after a rainfall because it slips," said Kox, who is gradually assuming management of the 10-hectare (24.7-acre) estate from her father.

Drones have been in use in California's Napa Valley vineyards for some years.

In Europe, meanwhile, drones have been used in Switzerland for about three years and in Germany since last year, according to French viticulture expert Robert Verger.

"In France, all aerial treatments in agriculture are forbidden, and the drone is classed as aerial treatment," Verger, of France's leading FNSEA agricultural union, told AFP.

- Steep slopes -

Above Hettermillen village on the Moselle River, Domaine Kox sprawls over lush green limestone slopes, where grapevines have been cultivated for 2,000 years.

Born in 1919, Kox's late grandfather Francois launched a grape production business on the estate and her father and mentor Laurent turned it into a sophisticated vineyard and winery in 1977.

Kox produces white wines from Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Auxerrois and Gewuerztraminer grape varieties. They also turn out a few sparkling wines as well as reds.

With a wingspan of nearly 1.5 metres (five feet) and eight propellers, the drone buzzes a metre or so above the vines, its two flashing green lights protruding like antennae.

It sprays a liquid mix of sulphur and copper over the green leaves.

After flying for about five to six minutes, the drone returns to recharge its batteries and refill the plastic tank with 10 litres (2.6 gallons) of fungicide.

It can fly both in automatic mode on a pre-determined route, or be guided by the pilot on the ground.

In conditions like those of the Grand Duchy's vined slopes, the drone can be an advantage, said chief editor of Luxembourg's specialist Vinorama magazine, Erwan Nonet.

"Luxembourg's average vineyard gradient is the highest in the European Union," he told AFP.

Wine growers and farmers find it safer to use drones to spread fungicides and other chemicals to protect crops, added Verger, of the FNSEA.

They are "not in contact with the product" and less likely to have an accident, he noted.

- More competitive? -

Carrying out the trial at the Kox estate is private aviation operator Luxaviation, founded in Luxembourg in 2008, which supplies the drone and pilot.

"There are other winegrowers who are interested in drones," Christophe Lapierre, director of Luxaviation Drones, told AFP, mentioning interest from South Africa and Australia.

Costing $40,000 (about 36,000 euros) to buy, Kox is just leasing the drone but hopes, in the long term, it would cost the same as a helicopter but with less noise and greater efficiency.

"We're still in the trial phase, so we don't have exact figures yet, but the idea is to reduce costs to match the cost of the helicopter," she said.

And, although she has still to reach a final decision, Kox said that she already planned to use the drone next year over a much larger portion of the estate.

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Wright-Patterson AFB OH (SPX) Aug 16, 2019 - The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Center for Rapid Innovation (CRI) and DZYNE Technologies Incorporated successfully completed a two-hour initial flight of a revolutionary Robotic Pilot Unmanned Conversion Program called ROBOpilot Aug. 9 at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah.

"This flight test is a testament to AFRL's ability to rapidly innovate technology from concept to application in a safe build up approach while still maintaining low cost and short timelines," said Maj. Gen. William Cooley, AFRL Commander.

"Imagine being able to rapidly and affordably convert a general aviation aircraft, like a Cessna or piper, into an unmanned aerial vehicle, having it fly a mission autonomously, and then returning it back to its original manned configuration," said Dr. Alok Das, CRI's Senior Scientist. "All of this is achieved without making permanent modifications to the aircraft."

As the vision for AFRL's CRI Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) project with DZYNE Technologies of Irvine, Calif., ROBOpilot interacts with an aircraft the same way as a human pilot would.

For example, the system "grabs" the yoke, pushes on the rudders and brakes, controls the throttle, flips the appropriate switches and reads the dashboard gauges the same way a pilot does. At the same time, the system uses sensors, like GPS and an Inertial Measurement Unit, for situational awareness and information gathering. A computer analyzes these details to make decisions on how to best control the flight.

ROBOpilot also boasts a simple installation process. Users remove the pilot's seat and install a frame in its place, which contains all the equipment necessary to control the aircraft including actuators, electronics, cameras, power systems and a robotic arm.

Das explains that this non-invasive approach to robotically piloted aircraft leverages existing commercial technology and components. ROBOpilot incorporates many subsystems and lessons learned from previous AFRL and DZYNE Technology aircraft conversion programs.

"ROBOpilot offers the benefits of unmanned operations without the complexity and upfront cost associated with the development of new unmanned vehicles," Das said.

AFRL developed the system using a Direct to Phase II SBIR contract. During the past year, AFRL and DZYNE designed, built and tested ROBOpilot. Engineers demonstrated the initial concept in a RedBird FMX simulator, a full motion, feature-rich advanced aviation training device. ROBOpilot successfully completed simulated autonomous takeoffs, mission navigation and landings in both nominal and off-nominal conditions in this Federal Aviation Administration-certified trainer.

As an early adopter of creating disruptive innovation through paradigm shifts, AFRL established the Center for Rapid Innovation in 2006 to streamline AFRL's application of new and existing technologies to address dynamic changes in air, space, ground, and cyber battlespaces and solve evolving and urgent operational challenges.

The execution of this unique process uses diverse subject matter expertise and a collaborative government-industry technical and management capability to rapidly develop, test and deploy innovative prototype solutions for dynamic operational environments.

CRI routinely uses the SBIR program to identify both disruptive technology and innovative engineering talent for its projects. Working with teams of innovative small businesses, CRI has demonstrated numerous operational successes such as back-packable, precision strike platforms for high-value fleeting targets; counter-improvised explosive device (IED); counter drone capabilities; and secure on-the-move communications. Several efforts have even transitioned to Air Force Programs of Record.

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Fairbanks AK (SPX) Aug 15, 2019 - Skyfront's Perimeter 4 long-range hybrid gas-electric drone successfully performed the first civilian beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) flight without visual observers under the FAA's Part 107 rules. This flight is a significant step toward the safe integration of unmanned aerial vehicles into the national airspace.

During the round-trip flight, the Perimeter UAV flew over mountainous, rugged terrain along a four mile stretch of the Trans-Alaska pipeline. The UAV maintained a constant above-ground altitude of 400 feet with multiple ascents and descents of 1000 feet on 45 degree slopes. Radio-based telemetry, command and control of the vehicle was uninterrupted during the flight.

FAA representatives observed all aspects of the mission, including planning, system setup, and ground station operation. The Perimeter "did [the flight] safely, effectively and efficiently. It accomplished a beyond-visual-line-of-sight mission, and it was approved by the FAA," said Robert Huber, Program Manager for the Integration Pilot Program (IPP) of the FAA.

"Today's flight was a milestone in the unmanned community. We at Skyfront are excited to be pushing the limits of unmanned aerial vehicles here in the United States," said Troy Mestler, CEO of Skyfront.

The Perimeter UAV was integrated with Iris Automation's Casia collision avoidance system and was observed by Echodyne's ground-based detect and avoid systems. The University of Alaska Fairbanks and the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration purchased the UAV and organized the flight over the pipeline, with the approval of the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company.

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Washington DC (SPX) Aug 12, 2019 - During the second field experiment for DARPA's OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics (OFFSET) program, teams of autonomous air and ground robots tested tactics on a mission to isolate an urban objective. Similar to the way a firefighting crew establishes a boundary around a burning building, they first identified locations of interest and then created a perimeter around the focal point.

OFFSET envisions large swarms of collaborative autonomous systems providing critical insights to small ground military units in urban areas where vertical structures, tight spaces, and limited sight lines constrain communications and mobility.

The program includes multiple "sprint" efforts, which focus on different elements of the command, control, and collaboration among large numbers of vehicles and humans.

For the experiment, which took place in June at the Selby Combined Arms Collective Training Facility in Fort Benning, Georgia, teams undertook a complex scenario spanning two city blocks. Tasks included locating and isolating a mock city hall building, locating and securing an objective inside, and then securing the building - all while maintaining situational awareness of the surrounding area. Runs lasted up to 30 minutes each.

OFFSET includes two main performer types: Swarm System Integrators and Swarm Sprinters. The Swarm System Integrators, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon BBN, create OFFSET architectures, interfaces, and their respective Swarm Tactics Exchanges, which houses tools to help performers design swarm tactics by composing collective behaviors, swarm algorithms, and existing swarm tactics. The Swarm Sprinters perform focused tasks and deliver additional technologies to merge with system integrators.

The June event brought together the integrators and second set of Swarm Sprinters, including Heron; Michigan Tech Research Institute; University of North Carolina, Charlotte; and Cornell University, to integrate and test swarm autonomy tactics and technologies.

"The pace of our scheduled experiments requires our performers to take risks" said Timothy Chung, the OFFSET program manager in DARPA's Tactical Technology Office. "Rapid integration demands that our swarm teams, both integrators and sprinters, develop smarter ways to improve their current processes."

The experiment at Fort Benning highlighted the benefits of continuous agile development and integration and deployment, the principle at the heart of the OFFSET program. The Swarm System Integrators showed maturation in field operations while the Swarm Sprinters contributed technologies to enhance system performance. The platform experimentation provided insights into the role of commercial-off-the-shelf technologies in a research and development program.

The recent field experiment was the second of six scheduled tests. Additional field experiments are targeted at intervals about six-months apart.

DARPA has awarded contracts for the next Swarm Sprint to develop novel approaches to Human-Swarm Teaming over the next six months to demonstrate in the next OFFSET field experiment. The awardees are:

+ Case Western Reserve University
+ Charles River Analytics, Inc.
+ Northwestern University

Each of the planned five core "sprints" focuses on one of the key thrust areas: Swarm Tactics, Swarm Autonomy, Human-Swarm Teaming, Virtual Environment, and Physical Testbed. Each Swarm Sprint topic emphasizes different perspectives to ultimately enable breakthroughs in swarm capabilities.

More information about OFFSET and swarm sprint thrust areas is available on DARPA's website here

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Washington (UPI) Jul 31, 2019 - General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. received a $21.7 million contract modification for work on the MQ-1C unmanned aerial vehicle, the Defense Department announced.

The company, based in Poway, Calif., will manufacture unique initial spares and ground support for the aircraft, known as the Gray Eagle. The announcement was made Tuesday.

The drone aircraft, 26 feet long and with a 56-foot wingspan, was introduced in 2009 and has received regular upgrades since. With a diesel-piston motor powered by jet fuel, it is regarded as a long-endurance, armed, unmanned aircraft system that offers greater range, altitude and payload flexibility over earlier systems. It can carry weapons as well as surveillance equipment and has been in use in Iraq, Afghanistan and South Korea.

In March 2017, the U.S. Army began plans to permanently station the MQ-1C Gray Eagle at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, and the construction of hangars and supporting facilities at the base.

General Atomics' contract calls for work to be completed by July 31, 2021. In June, the company won a $21.9 million contract for support services on the aircraft.

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Seoul (AFP) July 31, 2019 - Seoul began testing delivery by drone in the country's remote regions Wednesday, with the hope of improving residents' quality of life, the government said.

The project, jointly launched by the interior and safety ministry and Korea Post, among other government agencies, aims to establish a "public drone delivery system" to serve the country's dispersed population.

A test operation on Wednesday transported medical relief items from Dangjin, a city 80 kilometres southwest of Seoul, to two islands off South Korea's west coast.

The same 20-minute journey would normally take delivery vessels two hours, the ministry said.

Earlier this year, American delivery giant UPS launched the first authorised use of unmanned drones to transport packages to recipients.

Seoul aims to open 10 drone delivery bases across the country by 2022.

South Korea has more than 3,000 islands, of which some 480 are inhabited and where many residents have limited access to health care and other public services.

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Berlin, Germany (SPX) Jul 31, 2019 - In a globalised world, logistics and networking are becoming increasingly important. Airborne parcel deliveries are a key area of interest for the future, and have considerable potential in a number of applications. As part of the ALAADy (Automated Low Altitude Air Delivery) system and ALAADy Demonstrator projects, the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum fur Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) is conducting research into automated, uncrewed air transport at low altitudes. As part of this research, transport of larger cargo items with a gyrocopter drone is being investigated.

In the future, this will allow flexible, safe and cost-effective transport of important cargo such as humanitarian aid or urgently needed spare parts to the desired location. In July 2019, DLR conducted successful test flights with the uncrewed freight gyrocopter at Cochstedt Airport.

"As part of DLR's aeronautics research programme, we are developing and testing a demonstrator for uncrewed freight transport, thereby opening up the prospect of carrying loads of up to 200 kilograms for distances of up to 500 kilometres in lower-level airspace," says Rolf Henke, Member of the DLR Executive Board responsible for Aeronautics Research. "Below normal air traffic, the concept allows for flexible operations on regional routes, away from populated areas."

Swapping seats for a freight-carrying area
The uncrewed civilian aerial vehicle developed by DLR researchers working on the ALAADy Demonstrator project is one of the largest currently available. During the development of the 'transport drone', a 450-kilogram gyrocopter underwent extensive modifications, including the installation of a freight-carrying area.

The aircraft has been retrofitted with sensors, actuators and a flight control computer, as well as other software and hardware for automated flight. "This technology demonstrator is ideally suited to validating the concepts developed at DLR for low-flying air transport with significantly higher payloads than those systems previously investigated," says ALAADy Project Leader Johann Dauer from the DLR Institute of Flight Systems in Braunschweig.

During the current flight tests at the National Experimental Test Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems in Cochstedt, the team of developers initially controlled the uncrewed gyrocopter manually via a radio link, as is common practice with model aircraft. This allowed all the safety measures and system components to be tested in actual flight, as well as proving the airworthiness of the newly developed transport drone.

"Gyrocopters have the particular advantage of being inherently safe," says Sven Lorenz, who is leading the construction and trial operation of the technology demonstrator at the DLR Institute of Flight Systems. He went on to emphasise the benefits of the configuration: "This means that in the event of a failure, the free-spinning rotor enables a gentle landing, as occurs with a parachute."

Several test flights have now been completed, in which the freight drone reached an altitude of up to 150 metres and travelled at speeds of approximately 100 kilometres per hour. "The test flights have already shown that gyrocopters are a suitable configuration for uncrewed air transport," explains Lorenz. The manual flights are the initial phase of a development process that will incrementally automate the aircraft. Computers are gradually taking over all of the tasks that would otherwise have to be performed by a person within the aircraft or on the ground.

"The next step is for the uncrewed gyrocopter to make its first automated flight," says Lorenz. "We are currently developing automatic flight control functions for all phases of flight: taxiing, take-off, cruise and landing."

The findings from the project and the flight test are important building blocks for operating uncrewed aircraft of this size cost-effectively and safely, outside the existing restricted areas. "Integration into a logistics chain, operational risk assessments, automatic monitoring of system status with a safety monitor and the development of risk reduction strategies are further goals of DLR research in the fields of uncrewed, low-level air transport," explains Johann Dauer.

The ALAADy Demonstrator and ALAADy projects
The DLR ALAADy demonstrator project focuses on the construction and testing of an uncrewed, automated flight test vehicle based on a gyrocopter. A particular challenge in the modification of the software and hardware for the automated flight system lay in the design of the actuators, for example for controlling the throttle or the roll and pitch angle of the rotor head.

Since standard actuators available on the market did not meet the special requirements for controlling the uncrewed cargo transporter, the DLR researchers developed actuators specially adapted for the ALAADy demonstrator.

Initial flight tests have been being carried out since 2018 and the automation of flight procedures is currently being developed in stages. In addition, researchers are working to clarify the legal constraints on the operation of uncrewed flight test vehicles of this class. In doing so, they hope to determine how uncrewed drones can be integrated into standard airfreight chains.

Since 2016, as part of the ALAADy project, DLR researchers have also been examining the economics of uncrewed freight transport, as well as identifying upcoming challenges and potential areas of application. Such research is laying the foundations of the demonstration project. The aim of this part of the project is to develop potential strategies to mitigate the risks associated with uncrewed flight operations. These may include the use of flight restrictions such as, for instance, using low flight altitudes and avoiding densely populated areas.

Theoretical research has been completed on payloads of up to one tonne. In addition, market analysis has been conducted to define the scenarios in which such an approach might be economically viable. Aircraft configurations and ways of integrating them into the existing air traffic system have also been investigated.

Eight DLR institutes and facilities are involved in The ALAADy Demonstrator and ALAADy projects. Both projects receive funding from DLR's Aeronautics Research Programme. The participating institutes and facilities are: Flight Systems, Flight Guidance, Air Transportation Systems, Flight Experiments, Air Transport and Air Transport Research, Communications and Navigation, Engineering Thermodynamics, and Aeroelasticity.

National Experimental Test Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems in Cochstedt
Among other applications, Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) are already assisting with disaster relief and the transportation of medical supplies to remote areas. As a result, the entire uncrewed aviation sector is currently experiencing rapid growth, which is illustrated by the development of new concepts and technologies.

However, the developing, testing, construction and operation of UAS are posing new challenges for research and industry, especially with regard to urban air mobility.

In order to obtain the necessary approvals, it is necessary to comprehensively test and certify these novel systems under realistic conditions within a controlled environment. Research is also required in order to determine public acceptance, as well as the impact of UAS on society.

Such investigations would focus on noise pollution, safety and environmental effects, as well as clarifying unresolved legislative issues. The establishment of the testing centre in Saxony-Anhalt, along with ongoing activities at the state level, are intended to establish a highly innovative research network that is unique within Europe. As a result, research and testing completed in Germany will help shape the future of uncrewed flight.

+ UAS research at DLR

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Washington (UPI) Jul 30, 2019 - The State Department on Tuesday informed Congress that it has approved a potential $950 million sale of contractor logistical support services for South Korea's RQ-4 Global Hawk drone fleet.

The support services South Korea is looking to purchase for its RQ-4 Block 30 remotely piloted aircraft fleet includes program management and training for pilots and other personnel.

The purchase also would include modifications and upgrades to the drones, spares and repair/return parts, flight support, analysis, technical documentation and other logistical and program support.

"The Republic of Korea is one of the major political and economic powers in East Asia and the Western Pacific and a key partner of the United States in ensuring peace and stability in the region," DSCA said in a press release. "It is vital the to the U.S. national interests to assist the Republic of Korea in developing and maintaining a strong and ready self-defense capability."

South Korea signed a deal to purchase Global Hawks in 2014, with production starting in 2015 and delivery expected to start last year.

Delivery, however, was delayed due to U.S. cyber security concerns. Part of the delay was caused by improvements to the drone's anti-hacking protection and network encryption to prevent outside interference in the aircraft's operation.

While the State Department has given the sale its blessing, Congress is required by law to be notified of it.

Northrop Grumman, located in Palmdale, Calif., is the principal contractor on the contract.

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Chicago IL (SPX) Jul 22, 2019 - Hybrid unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, are drones that combine the advantages of multi-copters and fixed-wing planes. These drones are equipped to vertically take off and land like multi-copters, yet also have the strong aerodynamic performance and energy-saving capabilities of traditional planes. As hybrid UAVs continue to evolve, however, controlling them remotely still remains a challenge.

A team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) has devised a new approach to automatically design a mode-free, model-agnostic, AI-driven controller for any hybrid UAV.

The team will present their novel computational controller design at SIGGRAPH 2019, held 28 July-1 August in Los Angeles. This annual gathering showcases the world's leading professionals, academics, and creative minds at the forefront of computer graphics and interactive techniques.

To control hybrid UAVs, one system directs the vehicle's copter-model rotors for hovering and a different one directs plane-model rotors for speed and distance. Indeed, controlling hybrid UAVs is challenging due to the complexity of the flight dynamics of the vehicle. Typically, controllers have been designed manually and are a time-consuming process.

In this work, the team addressed how to automatically design one single controller for the different flight modes (copter mode, gliding mode, transition, etc.) and how to generalize the controller design method for any UAV model, shape, or structure.

"Designing a controller for such a hybrid design requires a high level of expertise and is labor intensive," says Jie Xu of MIT and coauthor of the research. "With our automatic controller design method, any non-expert could input their new UAV model to the system, wait a few hours to compute the controller, and then have their own customized UAVs fly in the air. This platform can make hybrid UAVs far more accessible to everyone."

The researchers' method consists of a neural network-based controller design trained by reinforcement learning techniques. In their new system, users first design the geometry of a hybrid UAV by selecting and matching parts from a provided data set.

The design is then used in a realistic simulator to automatically compute and test the UAV's flight performance. Reinforcement learning algorithm is then applied to automatically learn a controller for the UAV to achieve the best performance in the high-fidelity simulation. The team successfully validated their method both in simulation and in real flight tests.

With the continued prevalence of hybrid UAVs--in the flight industry and military sectors, for example--there is a growing need to simplify and automate controller design. In this work, the researchers aimed to deliver a novel model-agnostic method to automate the design of controllers for vehicles with vastly different configurations.

In future work, the team intends to investigate how to increase the maneuverability through improved geometry design (shape, positions of rotors/wings) so that it can help perfect the flight performance of the UAV.

Research Report: "Learning to Fly: Computational Controller Design for Hybrid UAVs with Reinforcement Learning"

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Washington (AFP) July 23, 2019 - A US warship may have brought down two Iranian drones during a stand-off in the Gulf last week, the commander of American forces in the region said on Tuesday.

"We are confident we brought down one drone, we may have brought down a second," US Central Command chief General Kenneth McKenzie told CBS news in an interview aboard the USS Boxer, the vessel at the center of the incident.

A spokesman for CENTCOM, Lieutenant Colonel Earl Brown, later said that the ship had carried out a "defensive action" after "aggressive interactions by two Iranian (drones) in international waters."

"We observed one (drone) crash into the water but did not observe a 'splash' for the other," he said.

"The United States reserves the right to defend our personnel, facilities, and interests and calls upon all nations to condemn any attempts to disrupt freedom of navigation and global commerce," Brown added.

CBS said the drones were reportedly brought down by an electronic signal or pulse that disabled their flight controls.

Iran, which last month shot down a US Global Hawk drone that it said had ventured into its airspace, has denied that it lost any of its own unmanned aerial vehicles, after President Donald Trump announced that the USS Boxer had downed one.

Amid soaring tensions in the region, Trump said in late June that he had called off strikes against Iran at the last minute in response to the destruction of the US drone.

A series of attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf region, as well as Iran's seizure of a British-flagged tanker in retaliation for Britain impounding one of its own vessels in Gibraltar, have turned the area into a powder keg.

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Washington (UPI) Jul 19, 2019 - An Israeli-made anti-tank drone is under consideration for purchase by the U.S. Defense Department.

The Defense Department is seeking the approval of the U.S. Congress to transfer $6.9 million between accounts to buy an undisclosed number of Hero-120 "loitering drones," canister-launched anti-armor munitions. The proposed purchase is part of the $2.8 billion omnibus Pentagon budget sent to Congress in June.

The drone fits a niche between cruise missiles and unmanned combat aerial vehicles. It loiters in the air around the target area, searches for targets, and attacks once a target is located.

In 2018, the U.S. Marine Corps' Rapid Capabilities Office of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory submitted a request for information for an "organic precision fires" system which is capable of providing fire support at distances of 24 to 37 miles, to be used against stationary, mobile land or sea targets.

Manufactured by Israel's Mistral Uvision Ltd., and promoted by the company as "ideal for anti-tank missions," the 27-pound Hero-120 carries an assortment of warheads up to seven pounds and can fly for one hour.

It is similar to a tactical drone missile unveiled by Israel Aerospace Industries at the Aero India Show in Bangalore February.

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Sint-Truiden, Belgium (SPX) Jul 17, 2019 - C-Astral, a SESAR Joint Undertaking demonstrator project lead by Terra Drone-affiliated Unifly, is announcing its successful participation in the first practical SAFIR flight and integration tests at DronePort, Sint-Truiden, Belgium. SAFIR is a large-scale demonstration project aiming to showcase the economic viability of drone use in industrial environments.

As a member of SAFIR, C-Astral was tasked to take off and perform high-tension line mapping. During this process, the company was also made to perform deconflicting by rerouting the drone flight and alternatively choosing a safe place to hover until the geofencing area disappeared. Post that, the drone was to continue the high-tension line mapping.

During these operations, the radio communications were tested by the Belgian Institute for Postal services and Telecommunications (BIPT) and C-Astral obtained the permission to use the integrated communication links in the Belgian airspace.

Flight tests for the homologation of the C-Astral system by the Belgian Civil Aviation Authority were performed as well. C-Astral's software team also successfully tested the integration of command, communications, control, and planning software with the drone traffic management system developed by Unifly.

The SAFIR consortium, a group of 13 public and private organizations, aims to demonstrate integrated drone traffic management for a broad range of drone operations globally. The goal of the SAFIR project is to contribute to the EU regulatory process for drones and drive forward the deployment of interoperable, harmonized, and standardized drone services across Europe.

More about the project can be found here.

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Washington (UPI) Jul 9, 2019 - The U.S. Navy's MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter has reached initial operational capability, paving the way for fleet operations and training.

On June 28, the sea-based, vertical lift drone manufactured by Northrop Grumman was declared to achieve operational capability, the Navy said Monday.

The aircraft is designed to provide reconnaissance, situational awareness and precision targeting support for ground, air and sea forces.

"This milestone is a culmination of several years of hard work and dedication from our joint government and industry team," Capt. Eric Soderberg, Fire Scout program manager, said. "We are excited to get this enhanced capability out to the fleet."

The MQ-8C is an endurance and payload upgrade to the smaller MQ-8B.

The variant can fly up to 12 hours on station depending on payload. It incorporates the commercial Bell 407 airframe, which numbers more than 1,600 Bell with more than 4.4 million flight hours.

The MQ-8C has flown more than 1,500 test hours, including more than 700 sorties. It is 34.7 feet long and 8.7 feet wide.

The MQ-8C Fire Scout system flew for the first time off the USS Jason Dunham, a guided-missile destroyer off the Virginia coast near Norfolk on Dec. 23, 2014.

Northrop Grumman is contracted to deliver 38 aircraft over the next few years. It is scheduled to deploy on littoral combat ships in fiscal year 2021. The smaller MQ-8B Fire Scout, which has completed more than 16,600 flight hours over 6,200 sorties, including in Afghanistan, is currently deployed on a LCS.

The drone complements the manned MH-60 helicopter by extending the range and endurance of ship-based operations. It will include upgraded radar that allows for a larger field of view and a range of digital modes, including weather detection, air-to-air targeting and a ground moving target indicator.

"Combined with the maturity of Northrop Grumman's autonomous systems architecture, Fire Scout meets customer requirements for a ship-based and land-based autonomous systems," according to Northrop Grumman. "It also has the ability to autonomously take-off and land on any aviation-capable ship and from prepared and unprepared landing zones."

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Washington DC (UPI) Jul 04, 2019 - Frequentis Defense Inc. received an $8.4 million U.S. Navy contract for work on the MQ-25 Stingray unmanned air vehicle, the Defense Department announced.

The company, based in Columbia, Md., will provide engineering and logistics for the design, development, test, manufacture and repair of the MD-5A Unmanned Carrier Aviation Mission Control System, which supports the MQ-25. The integrated computer system will transport voice communications from carrier-based air vehicle operators to local audio switches, local radio terminals and remote radio terminals.

The MQ-25 is the Defense Department's first aircraft carrier-based unmanned air vehicle, part of a program begun in 2006 with first use planned for the early 2020s. It is launched from catapults, and caught by arresting wires when it returns to the carrier. After several iterations and design changes, it will primarily be used as an unmanned refueling tanker.

In June, manufacturer Boeing Co. selected BAE Systems to supply vehicle management systems for the aircraft.

The contract announced on Thursday specifies that work will be performed at Frequentis' Maryland facilities, with a completion date of March 2021. The Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division in Lakehurst, N.J., is the contracting agency.

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Riyadh (AFP) July 3, 2019 - Yemen's Iran-aligned Huthi rebels have stepped up drone and missile attacks on Saudi cities, highlighting what analysts call the kingdom's military vulnerabilities amid heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington.

Nine civilians were wounded Tuesday in a rebel attack on Abha airport in the kingdom's south, the Saudi-led coalition fighting the rebels said, the latest in a series of recent strikes on the site.

The rebels claimed they had hit the airport with drones.

Here is a look at how the kingdom is facing Huthi retaliatory attacks four years after launching a military intervention against the rebels in Yemen, where tens of thousands have since been killed according to relief agencies.

- Leap in rebel capability -

The rise in drone warfare targeting Saudi civilian airports, desalination plants and other infrastructure follows the prevalence of Huthi ballistic missiles, including some that targeted the capital Riyadh.

As the US worked with Saudi Arabia to choke off missile smuggling routes, drones have emerged as a relatively low-cost and arguably more effective alternative for the rebels, experts say.

Aside from low-flying drones that are hard to detect, the rebels have also used cruise missiles in recent attacks on Saudi facilities, US and Saudi officials say, in a major leap in their military capability.

Rebel chief Abdel Malek al-Huthi has said they have the capability to reach "important and strategic" targets in Saudi Arabia, and another key coalition member the United Arab Emirates.

The Huthis are also increasingly deploying improvised sea mines in the Red Sea, which represent a "hazard for commercial shipping", according to a report last year by a UN panel of experts.

- Countering drones -

The increasing drone attacks have cast a spotlight on the defence systems of Saudi Arabia, which has spent hundreds of billions of dollars on fighter planes and other military hardware.

"The Huthi attacks on Saudi territory have exposed gaps in Saudi Arabia's air and missile defence," said Becca Wasser, a policy analyst at the US-based RAND Corporation.

Describing the Saudi air force as "one of the strongest branches" of the country's military, Wasser told AFP the force has nonetheless been put under "tremendous pressure" by the Huthi strikes.

The kingdom's US-made Patriot missile defence system -- which already appears to have a mixed record in intercepting projectiles from Yemen -- is not primarily designed to repel low-flying drones, experts say.

"While the air defence forces are experienced Patriot operators, it is worth noting that they are operating a missile defence system that was designed without drones in mind," Wasser said.

- Timing of attacks -

The raids come amid heightened regional tensions after Washington -- a key ally of Riyadh -- accused Iran of shooting down a US drone over international waters, which Tehran claimed was flying in its airspace.

The United States has also blamed Iran for carrying out attacks on tankers in the strategic Gulf of Oman, an accusation vehemently denied by Tehran.

The Huthis are also striking back after persistent coalition air raids on rebel positions, including in the northern Hajjah province and the Huthi-held capital Sanaa.

"The Huthis are demonstrating deliberate targeting of key pieces of infrastructure that, if damaged or destroyed, would have a negative effect on (Saudi) civilians," said Wasser.

"This approach is likely intended to place pressure on the Saudi government by forcing the Saudi public to feel the cost -- so to speak -- of the war in Yemen."

The conflict has devastated an already poor country and left 80 percent of Yemenis dependent on some form of humanitarian or protection assistance for survival, according to the United Nations.

- Iranian role -

Saudi and US officials accuse Tehran of providing the Huthis with the training and designs to build their drones.

Iran denies arming the rebels, but the 2018 UN panel of experts report said it identified "missile remnants, related military equipment and military unmanned aerial vehicles that are of Iranian origin".

It said the Huthis' Qasef-1 drone is "virtually identical in design, dimensions and capability to that of the Ababil-T, manufactured by the Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industries".

It rejected the rebels' assertion that they manufactured the drone themselves.

burs-ac/rsc

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Amsterdam, Holland (SPX) Jun 28, 2019 - RAI Amsterdam, Johan Cruijff ArenA and the municipality of Amsterdam will jointly explore the added value and feasibility of a drone hub corridor. Places in the city where electrically powered unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) can take off and land. The reason for this is a European project on Urban Air Mobility (UAM) and the fact that the European Commission and EASA have announced the new rules for drones.

Henk Markerink, CEO Johan Cruijff ArenA and Paul Riemens, CEO RAI Amsterdam, announced this during WeMakeTheCity in the Johan Cruijff ArenA. These urban issues about mobility, digital infrastructure and safety are the themes during Amsterdam Drone Week, December 4 to 6 in RAI Amsterdam.

After the summer, the municipality of Amsterdam, RAI Amsterdam and Johan Cruijff ArenA will start exploring the opportunities and possibilities that drone technology can offer for the city, its inhabitants and businesses. Waternet and GVB will also join the exploration. Johan Cruijff ArenA and RAI Amsterdam, for example, want to investigate the feasibility and added value of so-called eVTOL hubs. eVTOL stands for electric vertical take-off and landing, places where drones can take off and land without hindrance.

Paul Riemens explains about the collaboration: "We want to investigate whether it is possible, for example, to organize blood or organ transports through the city with drones. Companies such as Uber, Airbus and Amazon say they are ready. However, it seems to me that social parties should also investigate what is desirable and feasible. This project is a first step in this direction and we cordially invite other parties to join in."

Henk Markerink, CEO of the Johan Cruijff ArenA, sees the exploration as a logical step in the long collaboration between RAI and the stadium. "We are both smart venues and we believe in the opportunities and possibilities that urban air mobility can offer. For example, during events, drones could be an extension of support services and contribute to crowd control and safety inspection. So it makes sense that we investigate those possibilities, together with the municipality of Amsterdam, among others. "

The municipality of Amsterdam is also closely involved in the exploration. Ger Baron, CTO of the municipality of Amsterdam, knows that urban air mobility will become a topic anyway: "It is possible, so it will happen. And then you have to ask yourself "how do you deal with that as a city?" As far as the municipality of Amsterdam is concerned, urban air mobility is not yet about passenger transport but about everything that has to do with assets. Then transport by air is very obvious.

"According to Baron, it is therefore good that there is already "practicing": "Then it concerns things like: How does the charging work? How do you use them as effectively as possible? Do the fire brigade and police both have to have a drone or can they be used in a multifunctional way? Amsterdam will probably be one of the first cities where this is going to play, so I like to be at the front."

European initiative
Nynke Lipsius, Event Director Amsterdam Drone Week, explains why RAI Amsterdam has taken the initiative for the exploration. "The Urban Air Mobility Demonstrator project (EIP-SCC-UAM) is a European initiative with the aim of exploring innovations with the application of drone technology within urban areas. The objective is that drones ultimately contribute to a sustainable, safer and more accessible city."

Amsterdam Drone Week (ADW) is the global Tech platform for sharing knowledge on current air solutions, potential innovations and vital regulations from 4 - 6 December in RAI Amsterdam. During three days all key players, big and small, commercial and non-commercial, from various industries, knowledge institutes and authorities, gather to co-create and co-operate. Creating urban air solutions together. For more information visit amsterdamdroneweek.com.

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Washington (UPI) Jun 28, 2019 - General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. was awarded a $21.9 million contract for support services on the Gray Eagle drone, the Defense Department announced Thursday.

The contract with the U.S. Army calls for procurement of performance based logistical support services on the MQ-1C Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft system, a 3,600-pound, 28-foot-long drone with a 56-foot wingspan. It has a range of 2,500 nautical miles and a ceiling of 25,000 feet, and can carry up to four AGM-114 Hellfire missiles.

In a profile of the system, the Army said the Gray Eagle addresses a need for a long-endurance, armed, unmanned aircraft system that offers greater range, altitude and payload flexibility over prior systems.

The contract announced on Thursday is a modification of a previous contract. Work will be performed at General Atomics' facility in Poway, Calif., with an estimated completion date of June 30, 2020.

The U.S. Army Contracting Command at Redstone Arsenal, Ala., is the contracting agent.

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Boston MA (SPX) Jul 01, 2019 - In the Harvard Microrobotics Lab, on a late afternoon in August, decades of research culminated in a moment of stress as the tiny, groundbreaking Robobee made its first solo flight.

Graduate student Elizabeth Farrell Helbling, PhD '19, and postdoctoral fellow Noah T. Jafferis from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering caught the moment on camera.

Helbling, who has worked on the project for six years, counted down.

"Three, two, one, go."

The bright halogens switched on and the solar-powered Robobee launched into the air. For a terrifying second, the tiny robot, still without on-board steering and control, careened towards the lights.

Off camera, Helbling exclaimed and cut the power. The Robobee fell dead out of the air, caught by its Kevlar safety harness.

"That went really close to me," Helbling said, with a nervous laugh.

"It went up," Jafferis, who has also worked on the project for about six years, responded excitedly from the high-speed camera monitor where he was recording the test.

And with that, Harvard University's Robobee reached its latest major milestone - becoming the lightest vehicle ever to achieve sustained untethered flight.

"This is a result several decades in the making," said Robert Wood, Charles River Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences at SEAS, Core Faculty member of the Wyss Institute and principle investigator of the Robobee project.

"Powering flight is something of a Catch-22 as the tradeoff between mass and power becomes extremely problematic at small scales where flight is inherently inefficient. It doesn't help that even the smallest commercially available batteries weigh much more than the robot. We have developed strategies to address this challenge by increasing vehicle efficiency, creating extremely lightweight power circuits, and integrating high efficiency solar cells."

The milestone is described in Nature.

To achieve untethered flight, this latest iteration of the Robobee underwent several important changes, including the addition of a second pair of wings.

"The change from two to four wings, along with less visible changes to the actuator and transmission ratio, made the vehicle more efficient, gave it more lift, and allowed us to put everything we need on-board without using more power," said Jafferis.

(The addition of the wings also earned this Robobee the nickname X-Wing, after the four-winged starfighters from Star Wars.)

That extra lift, with no additional power requirements, allowed the researchers to cut the power cord - which has kept the Robobee tethered for nearly a decade - and attach solar cells and an electronics panel to the vehicle.

The solar cells, the smallest commercially available, weigh 10 milligrams each and get 0.76 milliwatts per milligram of power when the sun is at full intensity. The Robobee X-Wing needs the power of about three Earth suns to fly, making outdoor flight out of reach for now. Instead, the researchers simulate that level of sunlight in the lab with halogen lights.

The solar cells are connected to an electronics panel under the bee, which converts the low voltage signals of the solar array into high voltage drive signals needed to control the actuators. The solar cells sit about three centimeters above the wings, to avoid interference.

In all, the final vehicle, with the solar cells and electronics, weights 259 milligrams (about a quarter of a paper clip) and uses about 120 milliwatts of power, which is less power than it would take to light a single bulb on a string of LED Christmas lights.

"When you see engineering in movies, if something doesn't work, people hack at it once or twice and suddenly it works. Real science isn't like that," said Helbling. "We hacked at this problem in every which way to finally achieve what we did. In the end, it's pretty thrilling."

The researchers will continue to hack away, aiming to bring down the power and add on-board control to enable the Robobee to fly outside.

"Over the life of this project we have sequentially developed solutions to challenging problems, like how to build complex devices at millimeter scales, how to create high-performance millimeter-scale artificial muscles, bioinspired designs, and novel sensors, and flight control strategies," said Wood.

"Now that power solutions are emerging, the next step is onboard control. Beyond these robots, we are excited that these underlying technologies are finding applications in other areas such as minimally-invasive surgical devices, wearable sensors, assistive robots, and haptic communication devices - to name just a few."

As of 9/15/19 10:02am. Last new 9/5/19 4:03am.

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