Interview published by RPASLife with Rafael Marquez, Director of Aerospace & Defence Systems of AERTEC Solutions.
What do you think about the RPAS sector’s development?
I would differentiate between leisure uses and business or industrial uses. The advances in terms of leisure have of course been impressive in recent years. Almost nobody knew what the terms “drone”, “RPAS”, “UAS” or “UAV” were or meant three years ago. Today everybody knows something about any of these types of equipment.
Their presence in society has become generalised, which is positive, and goes beyond just leisure activities. They’ve allowed many companies to seek technological or industrial applications to optimise or make more efficient the activities they used to perform with certain resources, and now these can be done in a different way.
Many people always talk about RPAS generically and I think that the real interest resides in their application.
From the standpoint I know best, the industrial perspective, I think they’ve served to generate a certain demand from clients for services that companies like ours, which dedicate themselves to technology, can offer in a more optimal and efficient way. To conclude, I believe that the boom this kind of technology has undergone in recent years has been quite positive.
It’s also true that many people always talk about RPAS generically and I think that the real interest resides in their application. RPAS are simply a means to achieve an end. The onus is often placed directly on the platform (be it a fixed-wing or rotary platform), but perhaps the applications the platform carries as a payload are of greater interest. They allow one to do things that couldn’t be done before years – or were very costly if they could be done – and now they can be done much more economically.
It’s also very important to highlight the different marketing possibilities, either through the product itself or the provision of a service. Beyond the platform itself or the pilot’s skill in performing certain flight acrobatics, the key lies in what I can offer the market, what I can do with my own platform and which others cannot. For instance, I can now record images of a musical event in real time which formerly required up to six workers and a crane. The aim is to generate a profit from providing a service having the same (or even better) quality at a lower price. This in itself isn’t a novelty at all, but the technology we use to achieve our goal is.
And what about the current situation of the regulations which govern them?
Although professionally speaking I don’t know much about it, I understand that for small platforms weighing less than 2 kg the trend has to be to somehow liberalise their operation as much as possible. There’s a certain real demand for services, needs which in many respects aren’t being covered (like recording sporting events or cultural activities on video, topographic surveys, support for civil engineering, leisure alternatives, advertising, etc.) and which need a regulation that’s more or less flexible in order to get the most out of the initiatives being put into place by entrepreneurs, SMEs and micro-SMEs that are investing and looking for their market niche.
As for larger aircraft, it is indeed true from my own experience that the necessary administrative formalities are far more complex to get a platform airborne with a maximum take-off weight exceeding 25 kg. Of course it’s logical for the authorities to require all the safety and quality safeguards from operators planning to get a platform airborne which could cause some kind of damage if the flight doesn’t turn out to be as expected.
I understand it’s likely that several iterations will come about in the regulations’ adjustment, and the administration, manufacturers and of course end users should be involved in this process.
To sum up, we’ll have to wait and see what the new regulation states and companies will adapt to it, trying to optimise our internal production processes in an effort to remain competitive.
Will we see RPAS in an unsegregated airspace?
Well, I think we’ll soon be going to a shopping centre with the kids and a quadrotor will be flying around in it offering discounts at a clothing shop. If you think about it, it’s more than likely that 80% of the commercial applications we can conceive today can be covered by platforms weighing less than 6 kg without any problems at all.
Historically speaking, larger RPAS were usually geared at rescue, surveillance, etc. applications in the military sphere. They were initially focused at operating in a segregated space. Lately, however, there’ve been several very powerful initiatives aimed at civil applications which are trying to move forward in the integration of an unsegregated space, so I think it’s just a matter of time.
There is now a great proliferation of small drones. Do you think they can also be integrated into this space?
Yes, I suppose so. As I mentioned before, it won’t be long before we see small drones dedicated to leisure or commercial applications offering services to end clients and not to companies. We’ll be strolling along the street and we’ll be offered tailored flying ads because the platform is connected to our mobile phone and knows we prefer a certain kind of beverage or a certain brand of cologne. This may seem futuristic, but it’s much closer than we think.
How is your company, AERTEC SOLUTIONS, involved in the RPAS sector?
We’re focused on the segment of RPAS weighing more than 20 kg and on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance applications. We’ve been working on this kind of RPAS technology since 2007 (though they were called UAVs at the time), initially through R&D programmes and for several years now we’ve been involved in industrial programmes.
From that moment on, we mainly focused on developing onboard systems: control and navigation, power management, payload, etc. Then we put together a powerful engineering team that built up its knowledge and capabilities which has been able to develop an in-house technology.
Though the activity was centred on systems at the beginning, a time came when we had all that in-house technology and we broached the possibility of developing our own aerial platform made out of composite materials. That aim has today become a reality and we now have our own in-house TARSIS-25 and TARSIS-75 platforms. We can therefore offer the market several complete solutions.
What kind of projects are you currently undertaking or planning to undertake?
As I said before, today we’ve got two carbon-fibre products weighing 25 kg and 75 kg which are entirely designed and manufactured by AERTEC and which also incorporate our own onboard systems.
We’re working on improving our platforms’ performance for the future by integrating several payloads to make our offering of solutions more complete. We want to extend the applications we currently implement to go much further with greater power and more flexibility to perform tasks more safely and efficiently.
What kind of people and/or professionals work for AERTEC?
AERTEC is an engineering company which specialises in airports and the aeronautical industry. Approximately 75% of the company’s workforce are engineers of all kinds of specialisations, including: industrial, aeronautical, telecommunications, computer, electronic engineers, etc.
An aircraft is just a large system of systems and an RPAS involves mechanical, materials, software and electronics engineering and of course a great deal of aerodynamic and structural calculations. In the production area, we have technicians specialised in the manufacturing of electronic components and wiring, as well as systems validation specialists.
Fortunately, we’ve got our own in-house capability covering the entire product development life cycle, ranging from software and hardware design and development to simulations and prototypes right up to the manufacturing of carbon fibre parts, ground integration and flight testing. To sum up, a set of activities which require highly qualified personnel in different technical disciplines.
We couldn’t end this interview without asking you what you feel about the CEUS project and what you think about its current situation.
I sincerely wish that its development and implementation had been speeded up much more. CEUS will come about. I think all the work that’s been done cannot be lost and I also think it’s got a highly interesting potential market niche, especially in the certification and qualification of medium and large RPAS. I don’t believe there’s anything similar in Europe to what the CEUS project has to offer.
The extensive experience INTA personnel have in launching target aircraft is unmatched anywhere in the world. To that we should add outstanding weather conditions to carry out flights at its facilities during the entire year.
Its starting conditions are without doubt unbeatable, but the project has been slowed down too much and other initiatives which initially didn’t offer such promise are being done very well and establishing themselves firmly. There’s no doubt it has to be speeded up now.