Safran successfully conducted the latest demonstration of its e-Rider autonomous multi-mission and optionally-driven vehicle concept at the Special Operations Forces Innovation Network Seminar (SOFINS) on 29th March 2017.
The news follows the agreement of an evaluation programme with the French Ministry of Defence’s (MoD’s) procurement agency, DGA (signed in December 2016) and scheduled to begin later this year, running through to the end of 2017.
The French Army Applications School has also conducted tests with the e-Rider in support of sniper pairs, providing enhanced situation awareness and forward observation, Safran officials explained to MILITARY TECHNOLOGY.
Conducted in front of representatives from the French MoD, the demonstration saw e-Rider networked to a Vertical Take-Off/Landing (VTOL) unmanned aerial vehicle as well as dismounted special operations team.
The serial saw the e-Rider deploy from cover and navigate autonomously around the air field at Camp de Souge, France, with overwatch security provided by Squadrone System’s prototype VTOL UAV which has yet to be named.
Once its route was completed, the e-Rider returned to the special operations team lay-up position before they mounted the vehicle and continued on task.
Explaining the concept to MILITARY TECHNOLOGY, Safran’s Senior Expert for the company’s optronics and defence division, Christophe Guettier, described how the solution allowed dismounted operators to remotely operate the e-Rider’s ISTAR (intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance) sensor suite on board a tactical ground vehicle, allowing for increased range and mobility.
“This is a long term concept designed to enhance the navigation and situation awareness of soldiers,” Guettier explained. “The UAV is used for proximity awareness for the driver and for target identification.”
The e-Rider was equipped with Safran’s MPS payload on top of the 4x4 vehicle, which comprises an Electro-Optical Daylight camera; Thermal Imaging (TI) camera; and Laser Rangefinder. The vehicle also includes an integrated Inertial Navigation Unit which is networked to the MPS payload.
Safran has identified three suitable mission areas for the e-Rider, including combat logistical support to infantry squads and special operations teams; perimeter surveillance; and reconnaissance missions; although Guettier remained open minded about future possibilities resulting from ongoing trials with the MoD.
Looking to the future, Guettier disclosed to MILITARY TECHNOLOGY how Safran was considering further integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms to assist in decision making processes and intelligence exploitation as well as additional InfraRed (IR) and other cameras for increased situation awareness.
He also described initial discussions with Renault Trucks Defense (RTD) regarding the integration of autonomous capabilities and payloads on board its Vehicle Leger Forces Speciales (VLFS) or Light Special Forces Vehicle concept for the French Special Operations Command.
The Command has contracted RTD to deliver a total of 241 VLFS as part of a wider EUR250 million contract, with initial deliveries to force components due to begin towards the end of 2018.