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Washington DC (SPX) Jan 10, 2020 - The flight navigation strategy of moths can be used to develop programs that help drones to navigate unfamiliar environments, report Ioannis Paschalidis at Boston University, Thomas Daniel at University of Washington, and colleagues, in the open-access journal PLOS Computational Biology.

To understand how real moths plan their route, the researchers mounted 8 hawk moths (Mantuca sexta) on metal rods connected to a torque meter. In front of each moth they projected a moving forest scene created from beams of light for the moth to navigate. They captured data from the moth flight and built a mathematical model to describe the moth trajectory through the virtual forest.

The flight data were translated into a decision-making program that could be used to control a drone. They compared how the drone and the moth performed in simulations of the same forest layout, as well as new configurations with different densities of trees.

The researchers found that hawk moths mainly rely on the pattern created by the apparent motion of objects caused by their flight, which agrees with studies of flight behavior in other insects.

However, the flight programs optimized for drones performed 60% better in the simulated forest because they also incorporated information about the exact location of objects in their surroundings into their navigational decisions.

Although the researchers were able to optimize the strategy used by moths to improve performance in certain environments, the moths' strategy was more adaptable, performing well in a variety of different forest layouts. The moth model performed best in dense forests, suggesting that hawk moths have evolved a flight strategy adapted to the thick forests they often encounter.

The researchers say that by using real data from animal flight paths they can program bio-inspired drones that will be able to navigate autonomously in cluttered environments.

Research Report: "Learning from animals: How to Navigate Complex Terrains"

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Netanya, Israel (SPX) Dec 27, 2019 - Orbit Communication Systems Ltd., a leading global provider of airborne communications and satellite-tracking maritime and ground-station solutions, and Inmarsat Government, a leading provider of global mobile satellite communications and managed network services to the US government, has announced an initial order from Inmarsat Government for Orbit's Multi-Purpose Terminal (MPT) 46WGX.

Orbit's MPT 46WGX is a 46cm (18-inch) modular, multi-role aviation terminal designed to be fully interoperable with military Ka-band systems and optimized for use over Inmarsat's Global Xpress constellation.

The order comes on the heels of a co-development agreement signed between Inmarsat and Orbit Communication Systems, announced on March 20, 2019. Delivery of the satellite antenna systems is expected in early 2020 from Orbit's US-based production facilities.

"This volume production order, by one of the largest global government satellite service providers, is a strong endorsement of our MPT concept and its capabilities," said Stav Gizunterman, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Orbit. "Partnering with Inmarsat has greatly accelerated and enhanced our development efforts and products."

"Our close work with Orbit Communication Systems has helped ensure rapid development of the innovative new MPT 46WGX terminal," said Steve Gizinski, Chief Technology Officer, Inmarsat Government. "We look forward to beginning operations with this terminal to expand interoperable connectivity solutions for highly mobile government airborne users."

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Washington (AFP) Dec 26, 2019 - US regulators on Thursday unveiled a proposal to require privately operated drones to use remote identification -- a kind of electronic license plate -- as part of efforts to ensure airspace safety.

The Federal Aviation Administration proposal for remote ID is now subject to a 60-day comment period before a final rule is adopted.

Officials said the new rule would help identify potential threats, and presumably enable security officials to act against them.

"Remote ID technologies will enhance safety and security by allowing the FAA, law enforcement, and federal security agencies to identify drones flying in their jurisdiction," said US Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, whose agency includes the FAA.

According to the text of the rule, the requirement would enable officials to remotely identify any drone in real time and "assist federal security partners in threat discrimination -- allowing them to identify an operator and make an informed decision regarding the need to take actions to mitigate a perceived security or safety risk."

The text noted that the FAA wanted to be able to act against activities such as smuggling of illegal drugs or hazardous substances, unlawful invasion of privacy or illegal surveillance.

According to the agency, drones are a fast-growing segment of the transportation sector, with nearly 1.5 million drones and 160,000 remote pilots registered with the agency. The requirement covers all private drones weighing at least 250 grams (0.55 pounds).

The move comes amid efforts by both large tech firms such as Google parent Alphabet and Amazon as well as startups to use drones for delivery of food, medical supplies and other items.

DJI, the Chinese firm which is a large manufacturer of drones, welcomed the action, saying it could enable drones to be used for complex operations, but added that it would review the details.

"DJI has long advocated for a remote identification system that would provide safety, security and accountability for authorities," said DJI vice president Brendan Schulman.

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Washington (UPI) Dec 27, 2019 - An Air Force squadron shot down a subscale drone from an F-16 Fighting Falcon targeting pod in a cruise missile defense test, the Air Force announced.

"This proof of concept can have implications for homeland defense missions, combined defense of the Arabian Gulf and beyond," Col. Ryan Messer, 53rd Wing Commander, said Thursday in a statement. "I am exceptionally proud of the efforts of the 85th TES and the units across the 53rd Wing that made this possible."

According to the Air Force, on Dec. 19 the 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida successfully shot down a subscale drone using an AGR-20A laser-guided rocket.

The test represents an adaptation of the AGR-20A -- which was developed as a low-cost, low-collateral-damage air-to-ground weapon for use in Afghanistan and Iraq -- for counter-air use.

Results suggest the AGR-20A could be adapted to replace the AIM-120, which is more expensive and takes longer to load.

The squadron planned the test with support across the Air Force and with contract partners in line with the Air Force's tactics improvement proposal -- set after the annual Weapons and Tactics Conference in January -- of finding a more efficient cruise missile missile defense weapon.

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Paris (AFP) Dec 19, 2019 - France has officially deployed its first armed drones, three American-built Reapers fitted with laser-guided missiles, in its fight against a jihadist insurrection in Africa's Sahel region, Defence Minister Florence Parly announced Thursday.

The drones, which have already since 2014 provided surveillance support to the French anti-jihadist Barkhane mission in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, will from now on also be able to strike targets, she said.

France joins a small club of countries, including the United States, Britain and Israel, that use armed, distance-piloted aircraft in combat.

The Reapers will each carry two 250-kilo (550-pound) laser-guided bombs, and are entering service after a series of operational tests carried out from the airbase in the Niger capital Niamey.

"Their main missions remain surveillance and intelligence... but these can be extended to strikes," Parly said.

"This is a new capacity, not a change in doctrine. The rules of engagement of armed drones are exactly the same as for fighter aircraft."

France's 4,500-strong Barkhane force is fighting a seven-year-old jihadist revolt in the Sahel that has seen thousands of civilians killed, and hundreds of thousands fleeing their homes.

French President Emmanuel Macron will visit Niger at the weekend to pay homage to 71 soldiers from the West African country who were killed in a jihadist attack this month.

France will also host a summit on January 12 in the southwestern town of Pau on the ongoing conflict, to be attended by the presidents of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

"The point is that when you are monitoring an area, if you identify enemies and there is an urgent need to deal with that target, the armed drone will be able to do it," French air force chief of staff Philippe Lavigne told AFP in Niamey on Sunday.

The drones have a flight range of 20 hours, at an altitude of 7,000 to 13,000 metres (4.3 to eight miles).

The French army has five of the drones in total, with two of them on the mainland for training. It will receive six more next year, equipped with GPS-guided missiles. The drone fleet is set to increase to 12 in 2025 and 24 by 2030.

The use of armed drones is controversial: the United States has been criticised for deploying them in campaigns in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. Rights groups say the distance-piloted weapons dehumanise warfare.

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Washington DC (UPI) Dec 23, 2019 - France carried out its first drone strike, killing 33 terrorists in Mali, two days after it announced drone deployment, the French government announced.

The action took place Saturday in a forest in Mali's Mopti region, where French troops are fighting Islamist insurgents. While French forces have used drones since 2014 in Mali to provide surveillance support, it is the first French use of a drone on a target.

"Guided by a Reaper drone, a helicopter assault was carried out at night by dozens of commandos, supported by Tiger helicopters," the French Defense Ministry said in a statement. "Fighting continued until morning, facing terrorist fighters entrenched in hard-to-penetrate woods. The provisional assessment of this operation is of 33 terrorists put out of action, of 4 seized pick-ups including one equipped with an anti-aircraft gun, as well as 4 motorcycles and a large volume of armament including heavy machine guns.

Two Malian police officers, held hostage for several weeks, were released in the battle.

French President Emmanuel Macron announced the deaths on Saturday but did not mention the use of a drone.

The Reaper drone is built by General Atomics, a U.S. defense contractor. Also known as the MQ-9 or Predator B, it is known as a "hunter-killer" unmanned aerial vehicle, capable of reconnaissance as well as delivering a payload of explosives.

On Thursday, French Defense Minister Florence Parly announced that Reapers, with laser-guided missiles, were deployed to conflict areas in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.

"This is a new capacity, not a change in doctrine. The rules of engagement of armed drones are exactly the same as for fighter aircraft," Parly said.

France has 4,500 soldiers supporting African armies in a seven-year fight against extremist groups. They are stationed in west and central Africa -- regions previously under colonial rule -- as part of Operation Barkhane, an anti-insurgency deployment that began in 2014. France intervened in Mali in 2013 after jihadist insurgents overran the northern part of the country. Mali's military has recaptured the territory but militants have regrouped and pushed into its central region.

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Calgary, Canada (SPX) Dec 18, 2019 - The ability to fly unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) significantly improves their effectiveness and potential. The increased range of BVLOS operations requires real-time airspace situational awareness for the UAV pilot and support crew to ensure safe, repeatable operations.

Canadian UAVs and Lockheed Martin Canada CDL Systems have signed a memorandum of understanding to provide an unmanned traffic management solution to meet this challenge. This solution will build a complete airspace picture necessary to conduct unmanned operations beyond visual line of sight in Canada and beyond.

"A complete airspace picture is an absolutely necessity to conduct unmanned flights beyond visual line of sight," said Dustin Engen, Lockheed Martin Canada CDL Systems Business Development Manager.

"When combined, Canadian UAV's Sparrowhawk radar and our VCSi product will offer all users this complete picture and provide the necessary situational awareness for BVLOS flights in Canada and abroad."

Lockheed Martin Canada CDL Systems will provide integration support for the vehicle control station software called VCSi, a universal Ground Control System based on more than 1.5 million flight hours in military and commercial flight operations.

Canadian UAVs will integrate their low-cost, ground-based radar, Sparrowhawk, into VCSi to provide users with a complete airspace picture of manned and unmanned aviation tracking with collision avoidance.

Sparrowhawk has been instrumental in Canadian UAVs' first permitted BVLOS flights outside of restricted airspace in Canadian history. The company will also develop hardware and artificial intelligence software as part of Project Skysensus, a five-year investment from Canada's Industrial and Technological Benefit (ITB) Policy.

"With Canadian UAVs' advanced market position in BVLOS operations, we are seeing a lot of gaps in what the general market offers to solve fundamental technological issues in unmanned aviation," said Sean Greenwood, President of Canadian UAVs.

"As a result, we developed a technology roadmap that invests in a comprehensive toolset to increase flight safety and repeatability as these operations increase in volume and airspace complexity. We have been working with Lockheed Martin CDL Systems for several years and we are very excited by this agreement to formalize the relationship."

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Wright-Patterson AFB OH (SPX) Dec 17, 2019 - The Air Force Research Laboratory's Center for Rapid Innovation (CRI) has successfully completed initial flight tests for a revolutionary Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) with a customizable suite of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) tools that supports extended missions.

This series of flight tests began in Feb. 2019 at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, culminating with a two and a half-day continuous flight demonstration from Dec. 9 to Dec 11. Subsequent flight tests will demonstrate increased levels of flight endurance.

The Ultra Long Endurance Aircraft Platform (Ultra LEAP) consists of a high-performance, cost-effective, sport-class commercial airframe converted to a fully automated system with autonomous takeoff and landing capabilities. Ultra LEAP also features secure, easy to use navigation employing anti-jam GPS and full global operational access via a satellite-based command and control and high-rate ISR data relay link.

"As the Air Force balances current readiness with long-term modernization, Ultra LEAP represents an affordable approach that supports both existing and future force needs," said Maj. Gen. William Cooley, AFRL commander, adding that the "enhanced UAS capabilities along with the cost savings offers the military a winning solution."

"Developing a UAS with this level of endurance is an incredible achievement for future warfighting and battlefield success," said Paul Litke, the AFRL project engineer leading this effort. Litke explains that since the system employs many commercial off-the-shelf components, Ultra LEAP will dramatically shift the ISR cost-performance curve for the U.S. military.

Developing Ultra LEAP from concept to first flight took less than 10 months, and the system could be ready for operational fielding as soon as 2020. The high level of automation it provides will enable greatly reduced operator training requirements for the U.S. Air Force. Smaller support crews will also lead to lower operating costs.

"Accomplished after only 10 months of development by our AFRL/industry team, today's 2.5-day Ultra LEAP mission is a significant milestone in solving the tyranny of distance problem for ISR systems," said Dr. Alok Das, AFRL Senior Scientist and the CRI Director. "It will provide immediate benefit to our warfighters while at the same time paving the path for future low-cost, multi-day endurance ISR systems."

Ultra LEAP employs many of the subsystems and lessons learned from AFRL's highly successful prior LEAP program, a UAS that supports missions up to 40 hours. To date, LEAP has completed more than 18,000 combat flight hours and demonstrated one of the lowest mishap rates and smallest mission crew size of any operational UAS in its class. CRI employed the same strategy in both efforts of converting existing aircraft into ISR platforms.

Litke explains that by leveraging the commercial aircraft market, AFRL significantly reduced the cost to manufacture and provide logistical spares relative to UAS.

"This way, the U.S. military will save money without sacrificing reliability and maintainability," he said.

Going forward, parallel AFRL-CRI efforts will focus on UAS operations with short takeoff and landing distances to support deployments at non-traditional locations.

As an early adopter of creating disruptive innovation through paradigm shifts, AFRL established the CRI 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 utilizes highly diverse subject matter expertise and a collaborative Government-Industry technical and management capability to nimbly and rapidly develop, test, and deploy innovative prototype solutions for dynamic operational environments.

CRI routinely uses the Small Business Innovation Research 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 in such areas as back-packable precision strike platforms, counter-improvised explosive devices, counter drone capabilities and secure on-the-move communications. Several efforts have transitioned to Programs of Record.

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San Diego, CA (SPX) Dec 13, 2019 - Citadel Defense has worked with three undisclosed U.S. Government agencies for six months to deploy counter drone technology that meets regulatory, safety, and critical infrastructure protection requirements. Throughout the pilot program, Citadel's Titan technology has been successfully operated in real-world missions for CUAS protection at live events throughout the continental United States.

"Our team has been impressed with the multi-agency collaboration that will safely integrate counter drone technology into everyday operation," explains Christopher Williams, CEO of Citadel Defense. "Our technology is proven and immediately available to protect high value assets."

Designed and developed in the United States, Citadel's Titan is part of an ecosystem of counter drone capabilities that cost-effectively addresses U.S. Senate and Congressional requests for safe national security protection from nefarious or careless drone use in 2020.

Citadel's technology applies artificial intelligence and machine learning to reliably detect, identify, track (coming soon), and defeat unauthorized drones that pose a threat. The Titan has been effectively used for on-demand, marquee event, VIP, port, and critical infrastructure protection under the pilot.

Continued purchases of Citadel's technology, highlight the U.S. Government's commitment to rapidly field commercially available technology to address urgent national security challenges where solutions do not exist.

When asked what makes Citadel's solution unique, Christopher Williams explained, "Our products appeal to military, government, and commercial audiences because we focus on unmet needs, operational employment, and mission constraints that our operators face. Citadel's solution is designed and engineered to meet end users' top priorities - protection, safety, and ease of use."

Drones have been notoriously difficult to defend and protect against. They are easily purchased, adapted for weaponization, can execute cybersecurity attacks, and can be extremely dangerous in wrong or careless hands.

While other companies have focused on solutions that only address fixed locations, Citadel continues to build solutions alongside government agencies that address their dynamic and always changing threat environment.

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Amsterdam, The Netherlands (SPX) Dec 11, 2019 - Just like the drone industry itself, the Amsterdam Drone Week is rapidly outgrowing its infancy. Together with the High Level Conference on Drones, co-organized by the European Aviation Authority EASA, the second edition of the event made Amsterdam the epicenter of the global drone industry. In addition, important milestones were achieved in the adoption of European legislation and regulations concerning U-space.

"We are at the dawn of a new social and industrial revolution", said Philip Butterworth-Hayes at the opening of the Amsterdam Drone Week. "Humans, robots and automated systems are going to work together. We are creating a new transport ecosystem and we are learning right now here in Amsterdam how this will work.

"Filip Cornelis, Director for Aviation (DG MOVE Directorate) in the European Commission, added the important role of cities in reshaping the future of mobility: "Cities will have to manage the 3rd dimension: the skies over the cities where the bulk of drones are expected to fly."

Amsterdam Drone Week drew 3100 decision makers and more than 200 speakers from no less than 70 countries to Amsterdam. RAI Amsterdam held high-level discussions for three days on new European legislation and regulations in the field of unmanned air mobility and U-space.

More than 900 people attending the conference discussed the European rules and regulations announced in June. It sets Europe on the forefront of the worldwide drone community. It was the first time anywhere in the world that regulation on U-space/Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) is being drafted and implemented, according to EASA Executive Director Patrick Ky.

This regulation is prepared as a follow-up to the European drone regulations that were published last summer and that will come into force in June 2020. "This second edition of the Amsterdam Drone Week was a special edition", said Ky. "The first one was a discovery of what could be done, this edition shows an increase in the number of visitors coming to the conference and the exhibition."

Collaboration is key
Simon Hocquard, Director General of CANSO was very pleased with the second edition of the Amsterdam Drone Week. "It was great to see so many key players from across the UTM and ATM spectrum in one room. What this said to me is that the drone industry is no longer an emerging market, it's a critical part of our aviation ecosystem and it's taken a strong foothold. In order for aviation to continue to be the safest form of transport, it's important that we all work together to achieve our goals. I commend RAI and EASA for taking it on this year and I'm very much looking forward to the 2020 event!".

Paul Riemens, CEO of RAI Amsterdam, is looking forward to next year's edition. "We then work together with Commercial UAV Expo and that means that an extra hall will be added. Moreover, we invite all cities that are experimenting with urban air mobility and they will be asked to share their experience here in Amsterdam. The drone industry is developing at lightning speed and here we are sketching the future of a safe and efficient airspace."

Amsterdam Drone Week
Amsterdam Drone Week is the first official European platform for users, manufacturers, services and regulators, that unites the brightest and most creative minds of the UAS Industry. It is a co-created event which showcases the latest technology and helps unlock the potential of drones and discovery of new applications.

For the duration of three days, this umbrella event connects the entire UAS value chain through a diversity of events around drone regulations, new technology and future solutions. Amsterdam Drone Week 2020 will take place in RAI Amsterdam from 1 to 3 December 2020.

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San Sebastian, Spain (SPX) Dec 08, 2019 - Predictive paths play a critical role in the overall performance of UAVs. After taking into account the challenges faced by industry professionals, UAV Navigation is all set to roll out upgrades to Visionair. As a cutting-edge flight control solution, Visionair has been the preferred solution, by some of the leading names in the industry. However, to address the increasing demands of the aeronautical industry, a new upgrade has been released.

This upgrade to Visionair, UAV Navigation's flight control software includes improved capabilities that ensure operational security. This includes multiple graphic helpers that make it more convenient to execute the mission. With this upgrade, the operator will have a better understanding of how the autopilot executes the commands. This considerably improves its situational consciousness, which greatly enhances its overall operational security.

This Visionair upgrade also helps the pilot visualize a real-time estimation of the predictive path that the platform will follow. This enables the operator to plan preventative actions such as evasive maneuver or emergency procedures, which provides better operational security. This ground control software facilitates easy and quick navigation and prompt execution of a flight plan.

How Visionair Upgrade ensures improved predictive paths
The current Visionair upgrade facilitates easy configuration and visualization of multiple landing flight plans. Also, it eases tasks such as planification or modification of the flight plan during the mission. This allows the pilot to arrange different emergency airfields, which results in better flight safety.

Furthermore, in case of potential engine failure, UAV Navigation's flight control software will show the estimated point of contact with the terrain. This way, the operator will be able to select a safe point of collision and lead the aircraft during its gliding descent, in order to reduce the risk involved in the operation.

UAV Navigation believes in constantly improving its solutions to ensure enhanced system functionality, resulting in better flight safety. UAV Navigation's Engineering Team firmly believes that advanced operational security is the cornerstone of reliable ground control software.

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Washington (UPI) Dec 6, 2019 - Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems has been awarded a contract for an additional high energy laser weapons system for testing.

The company was awarded a $13.1 million deal for the Air Force to purchase and test an additional HELWS system, adding a third to be deployed for testing, the Department of Defense announced Thursday.

The laser system uses a variant of Raytheon's Multi-Spectral Targeting System to detect and track drones, before shooting them down. The system also has intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.

In October, Raytheon announced it had delivered the first of the HELWS systems, which it installed on an all-terrain vehicle to test its maneuverability during a year-long overseas deployment.

The new deal is a modification to a $23.8 million August contract to develop two prototype systems, bringing the total procurement for the program to $36.9 million.

The contract awarded Thursday funds testing of the additional laser system at an overseas location to assess its reliability, maintainability and supportability data, as well as system operation against real-world or simulated hostile scenarios.

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Austin TX (SPX) Dec 06, 2019 - In the not too distant future, we can expect to see our skies filled with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) delivering packages, maybe even people, from location to location.

In such a world, there will also be a digital twin for each UAV in the fleet: a virtual model that will follow the UAV through its existence, evolving with time.

"It's essential that UAVs monitor their structural health," said Karen Willcox, director of the Oden Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) and an expert in computational aerospace engineering. "And it's essential that they make good decisions that result in good behavior."

An invited speaker at the 2019 International Conference for High Performance Computing, Networking, Storage and Analysis (SC19), Willcox shared the details of a project - supported primarily by the U.S. Air Force program in Dynamic Data-Driven Application Systems (DDDAS) - to develop a predictive digital twin for a custom-built UAV. The project is a collaboration between UT Austin, MIT, Akselos, and Aurora Flight Sciences.

The twin represents each component of the UAV, as well as its integrated whole, using physics-based models that capture the details of its behavior from the fine-scale to the macro level. The twin also ingests on-board sensor data from the vehicle and integrates that information with the model to create real-time predictions of the health of the vehicle.

Is the UAV in danger of crashing? Should it change its planned route to minimize risks? With a predictive digital twin, these kinds of decisions can be made on the fly, to keep UAVs flying.

Bigger than Big Data
In her talk, Willcox shared the technological and algorithmic advances that allow a predictive digital twin to function effectively. She also shared her general philosophy for how "high-consequence" problems can be addressed throughout science and engineering.

"Big decisions need more than just big data," she explained. "They need big models, too."

This combination of physics-based models and big data is frequently called "scientific machine learning." And while machine learning, by itself, has been successful in addressing some problems - like object identification, recommendation systems, and games like Go - more robust solutions are required for problems where getting the wrong answer may be incredibly costly, or have life-or-death consequences.

"These big problems are governed by complex multiscale, multi-physics phenomena," Willcox said. "If we change the conditions a little, we can see drastically different behavior."

In Willcox's work, computational modeling is paired with machine learning to produce predictions that are reliable, and also explainable. Black box solutions are not good enough for high-consequence applications. Researchers (or doctors or engineers) need to know why a machine learning system settled on a certain result.

In the case of the digital twin UAV, Willcox's system is able to capture and communicate the evolving changes in the health of the UAV. It can also explain what sensor readings are indicating declining health and driving the predictions.

Real-Time Decision-Making at the Edge
The same pressures that require the use of physics-based models - the use of complex, high-dimensional models; the need for uncertainty quantification; the necessity of simulating all possible scenarios - also make the problem of creating predictive digital twins a computationally challenging one.

That's where an approach called model reduction comes into play. Using a projection-based method they developed, Willcox and her collaborators can identify approximate models that are smaller, but somehow encode the most important dynamics, such that they can be used for predictions.

"This method allows the possibility of creating low-cost, physics-based models that enable predictive digital twins," she said.

Willcox had to develop another solution to model the complex physical interactions that occur on the UAV. Rather than simulate the entire vehicle as a whole, she works with Akselos to use their approach that breaks the model (in this case, the plane) into pieces - for example, a section of a wing - and computes the geometric parameters, material properties, and other important factors independently, while also accounting for interactions that occur when the whole plane is put together.

Each component is represented by partial differential equations and at high fidelity, finite element methods and a computational mesh are used to determine the impact of flight on each segment, generating physics-based training data that feeds into a machine learning classifier.

This training is computationally intensive, and in the future Willcox's team will collaborate with the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) at UT Austin to use supercomputing to generate even larger training sets that consider more complex flight scenarios. Once training is done, online classification can be done very rapidly.

Using these model reduction and decomposition methods, Willcox was able to achieve a 1,000-time speed up - cutting simulation times from hours or minutes to seconds - while maintaining the accuracy needed for decision-making.

"The method is highly interpretable," she said. "I can go back and see what sensor is contributing to being classified into a state." The process naturally lends itself to sensor selection and to determining where sensors need to be placed to capture details critical to the health and safety of the UAV.

In a demonstration Willcox showed at the conference, a UAV traversing an obstacle course was able to recognize its own declining health and chart a path that was more conservative to assure it made it back home safely. This is a test UAVs must pass for them to be deployed broadly in the future.

"The work presented by Dr. Karen Willcox is a great example of the application of the DDDAS paradigm, for improving modeling and instrumentation methods and creating real-time decision support systems with the accuracy of full-scale models," said Frederica Darema, former Director of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, who supported the research.

"Dr. Willcox's work showed that the application of DDDAS creates the next generation of 'digital twin' environments and capabilities. Such advances have enormous impact for increased effectiveness of critical systems and services in the defense and civilian sectors."

Digital twins aren't the exclusive domain of UAVs; they're increasingly being developed for manufacturing, oil refineries, and Formula 1 race cars. The technology was named one of Gartner's Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2017 and 2018.

"Digital twins are becoming a business imperative, covering the entire lifecycle of an asset or process and forming the foundation for connected products and services," said Thomas Kaiser, SAP Senior Vice President of IoT, in a 2017 Forbes interview. "Companies that fail to respond will be left behind."

With respect to predictive data science and the development of digital twins, Willcox says: "Learning from data through the lens of models is the only way to make intractable problems practical. It brings together the methods and the approaches from the fields of data science, machine learning, and computational science and engineering, and directs them at high-consequence applications."

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Mikolow, Pologne (AFP) Nov 28, 2019 - Silently the eight propellers of the Hermes V8MT drone begin to spin and the large yellow aircraft rises up, locates its direction and moments later disappears into the sky in southern Poland.

Today the drone is making a successful 8.5-kilometre (5.3-mile) test flight near the headquarters of the Polish firm Spartaqs in the town of Mikolow; soon it will be making journeys between a blood bank and the Institute of Cardiology in Warsaw.

It will follow a route marked by radio beacons and fly over waterways for the most part so as not to injure anyone lest it fall.

Once the necessary permits arrive, Hermes could be used to save lives, transporting blood and medicine in emergencies. In the future, with a special pod in its cargo, it could even transport hearts for transplants.

"Flying at a rate of more than 80 kilometres (50 miles) an hour and with no risk of getting stuck in a traffic jam, the drone would be much faster than an ambulance," said Spartaqs company founder and chief inventor Slawomir Huczala.

Poland is joining the recent global explosion of drone technology, which has seen several civilian projects along with hundreds of often top secret military ones.

Huczala points out that a military version of the Hermes V8MD drone could also be a lifesaver.

"Armed with a georadar, it can fly over a minefield and locate even the mines that are made of plastic or glass. Soldiers could then either avoid the mines or disarm them," Huczala told AFP.

Hermes is the company's most advanced project, but a tour of the premises reveals many other prototypes that appear to have emerged straight out of science fiction.

Huczala calls them dronoids, as they are essentially flying robots with onboard computers that make them autonomous.

They are made of an ultra light and resistant mix of kevlar and carbon fibres that was fine-tuned by Spartaqs.

- Polish advantages -

The skies have become crowded with the competition over drone manufacturing.

Amazon and DHL are developing drones for transporting packages, UberEats is working on a version for delivering meals, while the US firm Zipline has developed a drone network for transporting medicine in Ghana and now hopes to expand to other countries.

The Chinese taxi drone eHang 216 has received safety clearance and could come into service in December in the city of Guangzhou.

And there are other Polish competitors, including Rendos Multicopters, based in Krakow, and Flytronic in coal-mining Gliwice which works mainly for the armed forces, but also produces drones checking the chimneys of buildings to see whether any smoke is poisonous.

"In this competition, Poland has several advantages," said Dariusz Werschner, president of the Polish chamber of unmanned aerial vehicles.

These advantages include the public's positive attitude towards the technology and the country's modern laws regarding flights beyond the visual line of sight, which allow for flights across longer distances.

Reconnaissance drones meant for the army or border guards make up a large percentage of the Spartaqs models.

The company also has an anti-drone drone, which is armed with a small laser cannon able to destroy the battery of an enemy drone.

Another model, the Helidrone, which looks like an ultra-light mini helicopter, carries two rescue rafts that it can toss to shipwreck victims with great precision.

- Invisible drone -

But Spartaqs claims a superstar model -- an invisible drone called Prometheus, whose body is made out of a dispersive material packed with electronics.

Sensors identify the luminosity and colour of the drone's environment, making it possible for the body to imitate them. The drone, like a chameleon, blends into the background.

The firm has also developed a drone able to fly around the underground corridors of coal mines to detect gas emissions and other potential threats.

Marcin Dziekanski, coordinator of the drone project of the Silesian metropolis, an alliance of more than 40 cities in the coal-mining Katowice region, said they use drones to monitor the smoke produced by coal-heated individual houses.

"They fly over Katowice, over the buildings, as well as over other cities, enabling us to intervene, in cooperation with the city police, showing that we are monitoring our space, our environment," he told AFP, adding that "we are creating a set of good practices that we are sharing with others."

Spartaqs considers itself above all a research firm looking into new technologies, though it has already sold a dozen drones -- at an average price of 50,000 euros ($55,000) a pop -- in Poland and Georgia.

But the company has realised that buyers like the Saudis and the Americans, who are very interested in certain models, want to see "the plant where they are produced."

So they have begun looking for investors, including abroad, who would like to participate in the development of a serial production line.




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Vancouver, Canada (SPX) Nov 28, 2019 - Robotic vehicles like Amazon delivery drones or Mars rovers can be hacked more easily than people may think, new research from the University of British Columbia suggests.

The researchers, based at UBC's faculty of applied science, designed three types of stealth attack on robotic vehicles that caused the machines to crash, miss their targets or complete their missions much later than scheduled.

The attacks required little to no human intervention to succeed on both real and simulated drones and rovers.

"We saw major weaknesses in robotic vehicle software that could allow attackers to easily disrupt the behaviour of many different kinds of these machines," said Karthik Pattabiraman, the electrical and computer engineering professor who supervised the study. "Especially worrisome is the fact that none of these attacks could be detected by the most commonly used detection techniques."

Robotic vehicles use special algorithms to stay on track while in motion, as well as to flag unusual behaviour that could signal an attack. But some degree of deviation from the travel plan is typically allowed to account for external factors like friction and wind - and it's these deviations that attackers can exploit to throw the vehicles off course.

The UBC team developed an automated process that enables an attacker to quickly learn the allowed deviations of robotic vehicles running conventional protection systems. Hackers can then use the information to launch a series of automated attacks that the vehicle cannot detect until it's too late.

"Robotic vehicles are already playing an important role in surveillance, warehouse management and other contexts, and their use will only become more widespread in the future," says Pritam Dash, an electrical and computer engineering graduate student at UBC and the study's lead author. "We need safety measures to prevent rogue drones and rovers from causing serious economic, property and even bodily harm."

The researchers offer the basis for a few such countermeasures - including self-adjusting deviation thresholds - in a recent paper describing their findings. They will present their work at the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico, next month.

Research paper

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Airport City, Israel (AFP) Nov 28, 2019 - In a fierce battle for market share against world superpowers China and the United States, Israel's drone industry likes to say it has a secret weapon -- military experience.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are used daily by Israel's military in and around its borders, whether dropping tear-gas canisters on Palestinian demonstrators, monitoring Hezbollah positions in Lebanon or striking Islamic Jihad bases in Gaza.

The senior echelons of the country's industry are populated by former military and intelligence officials, many of whom became founders or engineers in local startups.

Israel's first rudimentary drone dates back to 1969: it was a remote-controlled plane with an attached camera to spy on neighbouring rival Egypt.

Drones became more common, though not much more technically advanced, during the war in Lebanon from 1978.

But half a century later, tiny Israel is now a global force in the multibillion-dollar UAV industry, competing against China and the US.

It trades on its unique selling point: enemies at its borders and therefore plenty of opportunities to test and fine-tune its UAVs.

Ronen Nadir was a military commander specialising in missile development before establishing his company, BlueBird Aero Systems.

It sells combat drones across the globe, including the WanderB VTol that takes off and lands vertically like a helicopter, but has wings to improve speed.

These drones can take off and land in a town, a jungle or the deck of a boat.

"You will not believe it, but it took only four and a half months" from the first concept, scribbled on paper, "until this UAV was demonstrated to the first customer," Nadir said.

Hundreds have been sold since October 2018, he added.

- Real-time feedback -

"When an American company develops a mini-UAV and then it is used by the Marines in Iraq or Afghanistan, it takes a few years from the development of the system until it is used on the battlefield," Nadir said.

"In Israel all the people (in the industry) are ex-army soldiers, officers. The engineers who work on the development of the systems are actually operating the UAVs in the (military) reserves, in actual service. Then they come back to the office with actual and real-time feedback."

Development cycles are therefore short, he said, ensuring that Israel is at the "cutting edge" of the industry.

One study often cited by local authorities put Israel as the world's largest exporter of drones, but it dates to 2013.

Since then, the US has vastly increased exports of its Global Hawk, a higher cost and performance drone, as well as the Predator. These have sold particularly in European markets, pushing the country ahead of its ally Israel.

China, which offers cheaper, lower-quality solutions, is perhaps also ahead of Israel now, often selling to countries the Jewish state has no relations with, said Philip Finnegan, director of corporate analysis at the American firm Teal Group.

"The difficulty with ranking Israeli companies in the market is that they are very secretive over what they are selling and to who, as are the Chinese," he said.

Teal estimates the global drone market to be worth around $12 billion in 2019, with that expected number to double in a decade.

"They (Israel) are certainly in the top three, if not the top two."

- 'A stage ahead' -

At a recent conference for Israeli drones at Airport City, an industrial zone close to the airport in Tel Aviv, a discreet guest sneaked in: Nadav Argaman, head of the Shin Bet internal intelligence services.

His message was clear: "We buy Israeli technologies before anything else."

The technology, he said, helped allow Israeli civilians to live "comfortable daily lives, without knowing what happens under the surface" -- or in this case above it.

"In order to be alive we have always to be a stage ahead, including in drones," said Zohar Dvir, the former deputy police chief reported to have inspired the Adam Sandler film "You Don't Mess with the Zohan".

Today Dvir is a board member at Gold Drone, which specialises in agricultural drones.

Even here, military expertise comes in handy.

"The biggest place for opportunity now is agriculture," said Ben Alfi from BWR Robotics, which specialises in agricultural drones.

He says drones play an increasingly pivotal role in revolutionising agricultural practice, whether it be spraying, harvesting or pollination.

When it comes to "cost-effective, efficient" engineering, he said, "Israel is the best".

Though not, he cautioned, in creating more traditional vehicles.

"The last vehicle we tried to make was 40 years ago," he said, referring to the infamously bad Israeli-made Sussita cars from the 1960s.

"It was made out of fibreglass and could be eaten by a camel."

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Topeka KS (SPX) Nov 14, 2019 - The Kansas Department of Transportation's (KDOT) Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program (IPP) has successfully completed the first beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) drone operation using only onboard detect-and-avoid systems.

The flight mark the first time under Part 107 the FAA has authorized an operation to fly BVLOS without a requirement for visual observers or a ground-based radar. The FAA's approval for the flight was granted based on the utilization of Iris Automation's detect-and-avoid system, called Casia, which provides commercial drones with automated collision avoidance maneuvers.

The nine-mile flight was conducted by a fixed-wing drone and allowed a Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus team and Iris Automation flight team to inspect power lines in collaboration with the state's largest energy provider, Evergy, Inc. In the first two days of flights, the team completed more than 150 miles BVLOS.

Historically, all FAA-issued Part 107 BVLOS waivers have required visual observers or ground-based radar. These mitigations limit the possibility of true BVLOS flights, as they are typically prohibitively expensive and limit operations to pre-defined corridor areas with radar coverage.

This approval is the first of its kind for long line linear infrastructure and is the first step to enable routine commercial infrastructure inspection across the state.

"This program supports the President's commitment to foster technological innovation that will be a catalyst for ideas that have the potential to change our day-to-day lives," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao.

The milestone operation is the collaborative effort of the 31-member Kansas UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP) team efforts to advance drone technologies, and includes K-State Polytechnic, Evergy, Iris Automation and KDOT.

"This marks the first true BVLOS flight in the nation and is a tremendous milestone for the drone industry," said Iris Automation CEO Alexander Harmsen. "We see this as one of the most notable accomplishments to come from the IPP program to date. We're thrilled to set the precedent and bring our industry's utilization of drones from dream to reality."

The Iris Automation Casia system is a turnkey solution that detects, tracks and classifies other aircraft and makes intelligent decisions about the threat they may pose to the vehicle. It then triggers automated maneuvers to avoid collisions, and alerts the pilot in command of the mission. The tool is being used by customers globally, including in regulatory programs around the world.

"We are excited to be a part of this team of UAS pioneers," said Kurt J.

Carraway, UAS Executive Director of the Applied Aviation Research Center at K-State Polytechnic. "The hard work of this team creates a gateway for utility companies such as Evergy to create efficiencies in transmission line inspections using unmanned aircraft. We look forward to leveraging this opportunity to document safe operations of this nature, which will lead to creating state-wide access to this technology."

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Arlington VA (SPX) Nov 20, 2019 - FLIR Systems, Inc. reports that the FLIR StormCaster family of Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) payloads for its SkyRanger R70 and R80D SkyRaider airframes. The new line launches with two multi-sensor products -StormCaster-T, which delivers continuous zoom and longwave infrared (LWIR) imaging; and StormCaster-L, which provides ultra-low-light imaging, tracking, and mapping.

StormCaster represents FLIR Systems' next generation payload family for the company's own UAS airframes gained through the acquisition of Aeryon Labs in February 2019. The new line reflects a leap forward in scalable performance, offering a 7X improvement in line-of-sight stabilization, enhanced range of motion, and greater geolocation accuracy - all in a rugged package.

Interoperability across the StormCaster family enables users to quickly and easily change modules on the FLIR SkyRanger and SkyRaider UAS systems. The StormCaster line will leverage continuing improvements in aircraft performance, providing small units with the organic capability to conduct increasingly demanding missions such as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR).

"StormCaster-L and -T are just the beginning of this new line of advanced, high-performance payloads for our small, tactical UAS platforms," said David Ray, president of the Government and Defense Business Unit at FLIR.

"For mission needs ranging from force protection and border security to clandestine operations, FLIR StormCaster will provide heightened situational awareness, bolstered by our aircraft's onboard, real-time artificial intelligence.

"We will develop more multi-sensor payloads through 2020 that deliver on our promise to offer capabilities at the individual operator level that previously required larger, more expensive UAS," Ray added.

The StormCaster-T features a FLIR Boson thermal camera to support detection, recognition, identification, and target acquisition day or night, with maximum range and time-on-station. Its continuous zoom lens, with a 75-millimeter maximum focal length, permits long distance ISR while providing clear, actionable imagery. The StormCaster-L ultra-low-light imaging camera offers superior ISR and mapping performance during twilight and nighttime operations. Key features include 4K recorded video and full-color night vision in low-light conditions.

Developed for United States (U.S.) defense and federal agencies, the R80D SkyRaider delivers a range of versatile Group 2 and 3 payload capabilities with the agility and single-operator deployment footprint of a proven Group 1 Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) aircraft.

SkyRaider can carry and deliver multiple payloads up to 4.4 pounds and features an open architecture, plus one of the most powerful embedded AI computing devices available on a sUAS. Similar in capabilities to the R80D but for non-U.S. military customers, the SkyRanger R70 was designed for the most demanding UAS operators within the global defense, security, and public safety markets.

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Madrid, Spain (SPX) Nov 08, 2019 - Growing from its participation in the European DOMUS project, and designed to come up with a response to the growing number of civil unmanned aircrafts likely to be sharing the airspace in the near future, the technology multinational GMV has developed the U-Space suite dronelocus , which integrates a Tracking Service and an Emergency Management Service.

U-Space is the set of new services and procedures designed to guarantee safe and secure airspace access for unmanned aircrafts, taking in operational security, respect for public privacy and safety of persons and infrastructure.

GMV's growing participation in programs oriented to the use and management of drones has prompted it to develop the dronelocus family of products. In 2018 GMV was chosen by the air-navigation services provider of Spain, ENAIRE, to develop the tracking service, the emergency management service and the GNSS performance forecasting service for navigation and surveillance within the DOMUS project.

DOMUS is one of the six European projects selected by the Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) program for demonstration of U-Space services for Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM). To come up with an answer to the growing use of unmanned aerial systems of this type, GMV has developed the dronelocus family of products.

'The number of civil unmanned aircrafts using the airspace is expected to soar in the mid- to long-term, making it necessary to set up a drone traffic management system', argues Carlos Molina Delgado, dronelocus Project Manager. 'Especially', he goes on, 'if we take into account the forecasts of the Strategic Plan for development of the sector, with estimates a fleet of up to 51,400 drones for professional use in Spain by 2035, making the sector one more factor in the mobility and transport fields'.

How dronelocus works
U-Space focuses on the management of low-level flights at an altitude of less than 150 m above ground level in both built-up and open-country environments. In this context, the Tracking Service from the dronelocus suite processes data from positioning sensors installed on the drones and then records this information. It thus becomes a powerful support tool for investigating any type of accident or incident, by analyzing the flightpaths previously recorded in the system.

The Emergency Management Service from the dronelocus suite, for its part, in combination with the Tracking Service, manages drone operation alerts sending automatic notifications to the authorities in certain hazardous circumstances. This service also allows setting up ad-hoc airspace drone restrictions around the emergency-affected areas (e.g. a road accident, fire, safety zones, etc.).

These features ensure that general drone operations are performed according to the airspace restrictions, and at the same time authorized drone operators can fly in the restricted zones.

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Washington DC (UPI) Nov 07, 2019 - The rapidly beating wings of a mosquito serve two purposes, according to a new study. The tiny blades keep mosquitoes airborne and help them locate mates.

Male mosquitoes work to match their high-frequency buzz to the low-frequency hum of a female. They must carry out their courting rituals while flying through crowded airspace and tracking down their next meal.

Engineers at Johns Hopkins University set out to better understand how the mosquito's wings meet the insect's aerodynamic and acoustic needs. Their analysis could be used to design quieter drones or develop chemical-free mosquito control strategies.

"The same wings that are producing sound are also essential for them to fly," lead researcher Rajat Mittal, a mechanical engineering professor and expert in computational fluid dynamics, said in a news release. "They somehow have to do both at the same time. And they're effective at it. That's why we have so much malaria and other mosquito borne diseases."

High-def video footage revealed the insects flapping their long, narrow wings at high frequencies. Importantly, they also end each stroke by rotating their wings rapidly. By combining the unique shape of their blades with a special movement pattern, the mosquitoes are able to hover adeptly while also directing sound.

The rotation added to each stroke serves both ends, offering the insect additional lift and directing the sound of their beating wings in the direction of potential mates. Directional sound is an important part of securing a mate.

"If I'm talking to you and I turn my back, you'll have a hard time hearing me," Mittal said. "They have to be able to direct their sounds properly."

The mosquito's wing shape is also essential to its dual purpose.

"The long and slender wing is perfect for making sounds," Mittal said. "Fruit flies, which are similar in size to mosquitoes, have short and stubby wings. Furthermore, mosquitoes are flapping at much higher frequencies than fruit flies. There is a reason for this. Higher frequencies are better at producing sounds."

Engineers hope to use the latest research -- published this week in the journal Bioinspiration and Biomimetics -- to develop drones that direct sound upwards and away from pedestrians below. Not only would quieter drones be less of public nuisance, they could also help scientists observe wildlife without disrupting animal behavior.

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Jerusalem (AFP) Oct 31, 2019 - An anti-aircraft missile was fired Thursday at an Israeli drone over Lebanon, the Israeli army said, adding that the unmanned aircraft was not hit.

"A short while ago, an anti-aircraft missile was launched over Lebanese territory towards an IDF (Israeli army) UAV. The UAV was not hit," the military said in a statement posted on Twitter. It gave no further details.

Lebanon's Shiite militant group Hezbollah said it had "repelled" a drone that flew over south Lebanon, using "appropriate weapons and forcing it to leave".

Israel is technically at war with Lebanon and in recent weeks tensions spiked between the two neighbours after two drones packed with explosives targeted Hezbollah's stronghold of south Beirut in August.

Earlier this month, the Lebanese army accused Israel of having sent a reconnaissance drone over the same area.

Hezbollah is represented in Lebanon's government and parliament but is considered a terrorist organisation by Israel and Washington.

Like its key backer Iran, it has supported Damascus throughout the war in neighbouring Syria, where Israel has regularly carried out strikes to prevent Iranian-linked forces gaining a foothold.

Hezbollah vowed to take down Israeli drones overflying Lebanon following the August incident, and on September 9 claimed it had downed and seized one.

The Israeli army confirmed that one of its devices "fell" in Lebanon, but it has not commented on the August 25 incident.

US Interior Department grounds Chinese-made drones
Washington (AFP) Nov 1, 2019 - The US Department of the Interior has grounded its fleet of Chinese-made drones as it conducts a review of the program.

Nick Goodwin, an Interior Department spokesman, did not provide a reason for the decision but it comes amid US security concerns over Chinese electronics.

Goodwin said the review had been ordered by Interior Department Secretary David Bernhardt.

"Until this review is completed, the Secretary has directed that drones manufactured in China or made from Chinese components be grounded," he said.

Exceptions would be made for drones that are being used for emergency purposes such as fighting wildfires, search and rescue, and dealing with natural disasters, Goodwin said.

According to sources familiar with the program, the Interior Department has a fleet of 810 drones, almost all built by Chinese companies.

Only 24 are US-made and even those have Chinese electronic components, the sources said.

The US Department of Homeland Security issued a warning in May that Chinese-made drones could pose a security risk.

The United States has also taken steps against China's Huawei by effectively banning American companies from selling or transferring US technology to the Chinese telecoms giant.

US intelligence believes Huawei is backed by the Chinese military and that its equipment could provide Beijing's spy agencies with a backdoor into the communications networks of other countries.

The Chinese company DJI produces about 70 percent of the world's commercial drones.

"We're very disappointed," a DJI spokeswoman told AFP, adding that the company had no other comment for now.

The Pentagon has banned the military from using DJI drones for security reasons since 2017.

As of 1/18/20 3:51pm. Last new 1/10/20 6:44am.

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