The U.S. military has launched a new drone project with the Israeli company Xtend, using its Skylord system. The system allows drones to be controlled remotely with the help of virtual and augmented reality. As part of the pilot study, the U.S. military will test small and speedy drones developed by Xtend that are capable of intercepting enemy drones by casting nets around them from short range.
Last week, the Israeli company, whose drone was developed with the Defense Ministry and has been tested along the border with the Gaza Strip, began training American crews on its augmented reality piloting system.
What makes Xtend’s system unique is that the pilot operating the drone controls it with the help of augmented and virtual reality goggles, giving them the sensation that they are actually piloting from within the drone itself. “Its interface enables the operator to immerse themselves or ‘step into’ a remote reality and engage targets effectively yet safely,” a statement by the company said Tuesday.
The deal, as part of which the company has already delivered hundreds of drones to the American military, is valued at tens of millions of shekels.
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Xtend has recently reported over $10 million in revenues since its launch. The company develops the software allowing remote control over the drones and the technology controlling the interface with the drones themselves. The firm produces the drones in Israeli factories, but will soon start producing them in the U.S. as well.
The small drones can reach speeds of 200 kilometers per hour (124 m.p.h), and are equipped with a net on their underside, which can unfold on deployment and ensnare a hostile drone. This aspect of the system could help supplement the more common ways of intercepting drones, usually based on interference with their signaling.
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Company co-founder and CEO Aviv Shapira, explains that hostile terror organizations can deploy “dumb” kamikaze drones that lack any communications systems, thus precluding the use of signal interference technology in their interception. In such cases, physical entrapment remains the only viable solution. Shapira compares the product to the movie Iron Man. The technology was actually intended for gaming purposes, but was adapted for military purposes.
"The system's capabilities have been demonstrated in Israel, with confirmed interceptions of incendiary devices flown over the Gaza border by terrorist organizations,” the company said in a press statement Tuesday. Israel’s Defense Ministry reported this in the past, writing that: “The interface allowed the user to feel the area through the ‘eyes’ of the drone, experiencing the event as if the operator was in the drone, without risking their life.”
This pilot project joins two other pilots the Israeli company is running with the American defense establishment. One involves drones that scan buildings for the purpose of intelligence gathering, with the other dealing with drones meant to remove bombs and explosive devices from the ground. Xtend is also working with Israel’s defense establishment.
The Defence Ministry’s Directorate of Defence Research & Development is working with Xtend and funding some of its work. It is also the department that linked Xtend with the U.S. Department of Defense. According to a Defense Ministry report, the U.S. anti-terror CTTSO agency examined the capabilities of Xtend’s system for a year before deciding to launch this operational pilot project.