After 15 years of development, an Israeli tech firm is optimistic it can finally get its 1.5 tonne people-carrying drone off the ground and into the market.
The Cormorant aircraft, billed as a flying car capable of transporting 500kg of weight and travelling at 115 mph (or 186 kph), completed its first automated solo flight in November, taking off, flying and landing by itself.
Developers Urban Aeronautics believe militaries working in hostile environments will be main consumer of the vehicle, which uses internal rotors to fly rather than helicopter propellers, when it hits the market in 2020. It’s estimated to cost $14 million USD.
“Just imagine a dirty bomb in a city and a chemical substance or something else and this vehicle can come in robotically, remotely piloted, come in to the street and decontaminate an area,” Urban Aeronautics founder and CEO Rafi Yoeli told Reuters.
Yoeli set up the company, based in Yavne, central Israel, in 2001 to create the vehicle, which he says is safer than a helicopter as it can fly in between buildings and below power lines without the risk of blade strikes.
However, there is still plenty of work required before the 2020 launch.
The vehicle is yet to meet all Federal Aviation Administration standards and November’s test also saw small issues with conflicting data sent by sensors but Yoeli said he was pleased the automation worked as required.
Janina Frankel-Yoeli, vice president marketing at Urban Aeronautics, said the Cormorant, named after an aquatic bird, marked a new phase in aviation.
A number of militant groups in the Middle East, including the Islamic State group, Jund al-Aqsa and Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, as well as Hezbollah and Hamas, have all released videos indicating that they have surveillance and reconnaissance drones. Syrian anti-government rebels and militias loyal to President Bashar Assad were also flying cheap quadcopters and hexacopters as early as 2014 to spy on one another.
Russia is also showing off its own drone capabilities. Last year the Russian Defence Ministry started live online broadcast of drone footage of the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo to “provide transparency” on whether the cease-fire is being implemented.
There is no question the militant groups are outmatched in the sky. But as cells linked to the Islamic State group pop up across Europe and the United States, the real concern is the potential impact these experimental small, flying bombs could have if launched over crowded cities.
“You already see things happening in Ukraine, gangs in Mexico are using drones, and in Ireland, gangs there are using surveillance,” said Wim Zwijnenburg, a security and disarmament policy adviser at Netherlands-based PAX for Peace. “Add a small amount of explosives to a small drone, and even the psychological factor is pretty significant.”