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Annual reporting on research programmes «Unmanned Mobile Systems / Robotics» and «Space»

The annual reporting for the two research programmes «Unmanned Mobile Systems / Robotics» and «Space» from armasuisse Science and Technology took place on Tuesday, 6 June 2023 in Thun. This was an internal DDPS event. The 80 or so specialists present used the opportunity for an in-depth exchange of ideas.

14.06.2023 | Lucas Ballerstedt, Specialist Area Innovation and Processes, armasuisse Science and Technology

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The latest findings and activities of the research projects are presented internally to the DDPS at the annual reporting events. This promotes knowledge sharing within the department and makes an important contribution to cooperation.

Each year, experts from the armasuisse Science and Technology (S+T) research programmes present their activities and projects from the respective programmes. The third annual reporting event is dedicated to the research programmes «Unmanned Mobile Systems / Robotics» and «Space». Around 80 interested guests from the DDPS were present and used this opportunity to learn about the latest findings from the research programmes and to promote the exchange of knowledge as well as the network.

Robots are more than just machines

The research programme manager Dr. Markus Höpflinger, armasuisse S+T, held the opening speech and welcomed the guests. He gave those present an overview of the «Unmanned Mobile Systems / Robotics» research programme and outlined its fields of activity and competences in more detail. This research programme mainly deals with developing scientific competences and their use for the Swiss Armed Forces. In this context, it is key that robotic demonstrators from armasuisse S+T can be used in the Armed Forces for building skills and in an ideal case also for deployment in real-life situations. Due to the rapid technological development, robotics will have a bright future, both in the civilian and the military areas. The subsequent presentation from Dr. Tonya Müller of armasuisse S+T showed which role both drones and unmanned ground vehicles are currently taking on in explosive ordnance disposal and clearance. What is always key is that the security of persons is increased and costs and time can be saved. Drones are thus being tested for detecting and identifying explosives in places that are difficult to reach as well as for clearing shooting ranges. The next presentation dealt with international trends of military robotics and their implications for the armed forces and for Switzerland. The study was created in cooperation with the Geneva Centre for Security Policy.

One particular focus was on the robot Ascento, which was created in cooperation with the Swiss Drone and Robotics Centre (SDRC) and the ETH Zurich and which is being commercialised through a spin-off. Ascento is a robot for automatic perimeter surveillance. By means of artificial intelligence, the patrolling robot independently discovers irregularities, such as open doors and windows, damage to infrastructure and sources of fire. The speaker talked about experiences and challenges which they were able to overcome with the help of the SDRC, among others. In the last presentation, it was demonstrated how Swiss drone companies are working together with the U.S. Department of Defense. The Swiss drone industry has taken on an important role within the U.S. Defense Innovation Unit’s project.

The term «drone» is the colloquial term for an unmanned aircraft (UAV - Unmanned Aerial Vehicle). These include small commercial drones from the hobby sector as well as large military drones.

Diving into outer space

The afternoon was dedicated to the «Space» research programme and started with a welcome speech by Dr. Peter Friedli and Fabio Gambarara, armasuisse S+T. To start with, they presented the activities and core competences of the research programme to the participants. This programme is not about exploring outer space, but about its specific usage as a domain of operations for the Armed Forces. The creation of an operational picture of outer space plays a crucial role in understanding how it is already used today by various different stakeholders. In this context, Colonel GS Ludovic Monnerat from Joint Operations Command explained the future tasks of the Swiss Armed Forces with regard to outer space.

The first presentation from the company Ateleris and the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland, FHNW, demonstrated how images are analysed on board a satellite. Ateleris presented options for recognising objects directly on board a satellite using artificial intelligence. Ateleris described this in an impressive manner based on the recognition of ships in Swiss waters. Particular challenges exist in the area of computing power and energy supply. The company Orbitare then presented its Spaceloop project and its possible military uses. Spaceloop aims to enable the transmission of messages via nanosatellites. Thus connections would be ensured at all times, even in the event of a disruption in ground-based communications. Finally, the company Aerospacelab presented the SIGINT Pathfinder project. This aims to gain experience in the area of satellite-based signals intelligence.

SIGINT (Signals Intelligence) is used for intelligence collection and enables knowledge to be gained through the targeted evaluation of information that is extracted from electronic signals and communications of a specific target.

For those present, these annual face-to-face meetings are of great importance – they promote mutual exchange, enable insights into the state of research and contribute to mutual understanding as well as to better cooperation.

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