The Pentagon’s internal startup incubator and the U.S. Army jointly aim to adapt off-the-shelf commercial drones for combat scenarios, and toward that end, they today revealed one of the six companies that’ll supply these drones: Paris-based Parrot. In the coming weeks, as part of the agencies’ ongoing Short Range Reconnaissance (SRR) effort, Parrot will prototype “rapidly deployable” quadcopters capable of performing battlefield surveillance and reconnaissance.
“Parrot is proud to have been selected by the Army to work on this highly strategic project,” said Henri Seydoux, founder and CEO of Parrot, in a statement. “The United States has always been a major market for the Parrot Group whether it is for our well-known consumer range or our advanced professional offering … We look forward to focusing our advanced R&D on meeting the high standards set by the U.S. Army, to integrate drone efficiency in their day to day operations and support the world-leading army defense system.”
SRR — an operation spearheaded by the U.S. Army Program Executive Officer for Aviation’s Project Manager, the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), and the Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence — seeks to kickstart the development of drones with at least 30 minutes of flight time, a three-kilometer range, and a total weight of less than three pounds. They’re also required to take less than two minutes to assemble and to fit inside a soldier’s standard-issue rucksack.
To date, SRR has awarded $11 million in funding to contract awardees.
Beyond the battlefield, government agencies are increasingly partnering with private enterprise to explore novel uses of drone technology. The San Diego Fire Department (SDFD) and dozens of others have begun actively deploying drones as part of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) unmanned aerial systems integration pilot program. In May, the FAA chose 10 winners from a pool of more than 160 applicants interested in reimagining how drones can be used by governments and private industry. Meanwhile, telepresence drone piloting company Cape and others in the industry have begun to partner with first responders like the Chula Vista Police Department for field tests.
Reports show that the commercial drone industry is continuing to grow quickly, albeit from a small base. A 2017 forecast from Gartner projected the number of commercial drones sold that year would exceed 174,000. Moreover, about $565 million was thrown at UAV startups in 2016 alone, and the market is forecast to become a $127 billion industry by 2020.