By Nathan Gain
French industry, considering that it somewhat missed the boat in the 1990s where military remotely piloted air systems (RPASs) were concerned, is determined not to do the same with humanoid robots. To this end the ECA Group plans to launch a new robotics sector in the French defence and security industrial field. In July 2015 ECA Dynamics was created, the result of a joint venture between ECA Group and Wandercraft, a Parisian startup which is a leading innovator in medical exoskeletons. The aim of ECA Dynamics is to develop robots to support defence and security missions leaning on Wandercraft’s know-how in humanoid robotics and ECA’s know-how in mobile robotics. At the Milipol state security show held last week in Paris, ECA unveiled its ambitions in this relatively unknown area for the defence sector.
Guénaël Guillerme, director general of the ECA group, announced that within two or three years a four-legged robot demonstrator will have been developed, to “carry charges of several dozen kilogrammes [70-80kg was he figure he mentioned] to help support infantrymen.” Whether two or four-legged, this future wheeled or tracked robotic auxiliary will have to be able to handle obstacles to assist soldiers in the field. “Experience shows that all wheeled or tracked robots have problems with obstacles: ditches, barbed wire, low walls… Walking robots will be very useful for the army and security forces, but also the industrial world,” Guénaël Guillerme explains.
Destined to complete the range of air and land unmanned systems already developed by the company, humanoid robots could even, in the future, collaborate not only with each other but also with these other platforms. Whether destined for logistical or medical missions (ECA is thinking about developing a stretcher-carrying robot), the group hopes that these systems can be deployed by 2020-25.
The joint venture with Wandercraft thus represents a real advantage, according to Guénaël Guillerme. “We were seduced by the ambition and technological choices of the three founders. By investing in Wandercraft we can use our industrial experience to speed-up the arrival of this innovative technology on the market. And at the same time, we are giving ourselves the opportunity of exploiting their knowledge of robotics in the defence and security sector. The ECA Dynamics joint venture will develop a range of four-legged or two-legged robots in the next few years.”
Proof of the confidence ECA has in this original technology, the French group and its partners have just raised a further €4m capital for Wandercraft. A financial windfall for this startup to help it move forward with its innovative projects.