While the Paris Airshow is used to battles over superjumbos and fighter jets, this year’s event has seen one break out on a much smaller scale, as makers of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) face security firms keen to make sure they don’t break privacy rules.
At the stand of privately-owned French company Parrot, onlookers were mesmerised as mini-UAVs performed an aerial dance routine to Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’.
“We design drones as light as possible, because the lighter the drone, the less dangerous it is”, said Parrot’s majority-owner and founder Henri Seydoux, whose company sells UAVs for mapping and crop surveillance and increasingly for consumers looking for that unique camera angle.
Demand is growing quickly. In the first three months of this year, Parrot made 34.6 million euros ($38.9 million) in revenues from its drones business, up from 7.6 million in the same period last year.
But not everyone is pleased.
At the end of last year, UAVs repeatedly flew over French nuclear plants, fuelling concerns over security and leading the government to issue a call for projects to detect and neutralise unmanned aircraft and protect sensitive areas against their intrusion.
Among the 24 projects submitted to the government, two were selected by the National Research Agency: “Boreades,” led by a private company called Communication & Systèmes (CS); and “Angelas” from ONERA, the national office for aerospace study and research.
CS’s plans include a detection system for UAVs based on the heat emitted by objects, as well as neutralising them by jamming their data and making them return to their controllers.
“We have already received international demands, from countries seeking for protection. Each need is different, the aim is to answer all these demands,” CS department director Denis Chaumartin told Reuters.
CS is expected to demonstrate its project in around a year.
ONERA, meanwhile, is testing a range of detection methods including acoustic, optical and radar. It expects to be ready for demonstration in about 18 months, but is confident the battle against any intrusive use of UAVs can be won.
“There are technological bricks that exist, that we can put together,” said ONERA research scientist Nicolas Riviere.