AirRobot, Northrop Grumman agree to sUAV distribution network

By Luke Geiver | April 01, 2015

AirRobot U.S., a subsidiary of the Germany-based AirRobot, has agreed with a major North American aerospace company to distribute the company’s small unmanned aircraft vehicle it first started selling in 2004. Northrop Grumman Corp.’s subsidiary Remotec Inc., will now be the main distributor for a sUAV designed originally for first responders and law enforcement. In 2005, German law enforcement purchased a sUAV from AirRobot and the following year the German army began using AirRobot’s sUAVs. By 2008, the system was in use in Iraq. Although the company has a long history of working with defense contractors, according to Thomas Meyer, president and founder of the company, they were also used and flown in Europe before hitting the U.S. market.

Because the systems were being used in Europe and by defense contractors, the sUAV system has been proven and developed more than most other sUAV offerings. “People in Europe were able to buy and fly,” Meyer said. Compared to most sUAV manufacturers offering products to the U.S. market today, Meyer said his company is considered old.

Remotec and others, however, have been drawn to the experience and history of AirRobot, he said. The company has an impressive safety record. The sUAVs have been operating with a U.S. Federal Aviation Administration Certificate of Authorization since 2007, Meyer said, making the AirRobot UAV the longest tenured of any system. “There is maturity in the system and with maturity comes reliability,” he said. The system is even certified for safety by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Because of its defense contractor background, the sUAV is built with military grade components not typically found in hobby-style UAVs. The transmitters are also secure, a feature that draws interest from law enforcement and first responders, Meyer said.

The multi-rotor design allows for multiple payloads to be carried on a single platform. The units can fly for 50 minutes with up to 2 pounds of payload. The units have already been run with infrared sensors, gas detectors, cameras and other payload devices.

Walt Werner, director of the Tennessee-based Remotec, said the new distributorship gives its customers “a best-in-class small vertical takeoff and landing UAS product line that represents some of the most mature technology in the industry with a decade-long track record.”

Although the current multi-rotor platform is proven, Meyer and his team are excited that the Tennessee location will be able to perform service and maintenance for the UAVs instead of shipping them to Germany.

AirRobot is currently working on an autonomous flight system that would allow for beyond-line-of-sight flight and nighttime operations. The idea, according to Meyers, is to make the system capable of running without the need for GPS.  

The team is also keeping a close eye on the evolution of the industry. There have been many great developments in the transmitter realm, Meyer said, in addition to sense-and-avoid systems and even accomplishments of the FAA.

The partnership was formed with Northrop Grumman due to the equally-shared stance on aviation safety, he added. “We are operating in the aviation realm rather than the gadget realm,” he said. “Both companies share these values. That is very important.”