Placed right in the middle of the Safran stand at Eurosatory (June 13-17, 2016), the eRider robotic vehicle fully reflects Safran's research and innovation strategy. The eRider project is being unveiled at this leading defense trade show, and calls on Safran Electronics & Defense's strong technology heritage, with expertise in the architecture of complex systems, onboard electronics, optronics, inertial systems, mission planning and secure communications/C2 systems.
Following in the wake of drones, land robots are becoming an operational reality. Looking ahead, they will provide an even more decisive advantage in terms of intelligence, support and logistics.
Safran, the European leader in tactical drones, has the core competencies needed to meet this new challenge. In 2013, it teamed up with the French auto parts giant Valeo to develop tomorrow's mobility solutions. The autonomous eRider robot is one of the results of this teamwork.
eRider: an optionally driven robot, inspired by the Patroller drone
eRider is in fact a four-wheel drive, hybrid vehicle in the light strike vehicle class, with multi-mission capability and reconfigurability (2 seat or 4 seat). Highly maneuverable and featuring low observability, the eRider can be conventionally driven, but it also has the intrinsic capabilities needed to carry out missions with partial or total autonomy. Safran's Research & Technology (R&T) teams called on their multiple skills, most represented at Eurosatory, to develop this new project.
A comprehensive systems approach is used, encompassing equipment for autonomous operation and missions, leading to a rationalized, robust and cost-effective architecture that fits a wide range of platforms and also has major links with the auto market. Thierry Dupoux, head of R&T at Safran Electronics & Defense, explains: "The technologies offered by Safran Electronics & Defense are pivotal to autonomous mobility and our company's business sectors. Since we already understand and apply all critical functions, land robots give us a new market opportunity, and the partnerships we have already formed will allow us to capitalize on cross-sector synergies, while leveraging a number of dual technologies.
"Safran Electronics & Defense wants to use the eRider concept to show the concrete advantages of autonomous platforms and functions deployed by armed forces, in particular by analyzing the improvement in operational efficiency and the benefits of not exposing soldiers to avoidable danger. This innovative approach, based on a driven vehicle, should considerably shrink the logistics footprint and the cognitive workload on the platform, making it possible to gradually introduce autonomy functions. The overall systems approach being proposed should significantly improve continuity between mounted and dismounted infantry (as heralded by the FELIN system and vehicles in the Scorpion program, while paving the way to real collaborative actions.
"It's also worth noting that this project uses the same approach as the Patroller program, meaning the ‘dronization' of a piloted platform, which incorporates the critical mobility and mission functions offered by Safran Electronics & Defense. From the production standpoint, we could draw a parallel with the Patroller Cluster consortium. On the eRider, we have partnerships not only with major corporations like PSA and Valeo, but also with innovative small businesses, as well as academia, especially the Ecole de Mines engineering school. The dual technologies involved fall within the scope of the road map for the autonomous civil vehicle and military land robotics, which entail their own restrictions that impact the design."
An in-depth analysis of operational requirements
Of course, all that still leaves the central question of how to deploy a new-generation robot in a theater of operations. The link between technologies and troop expectations is therefore a key to the design approach used by Safran.
"Any new system concept must be the result of an ongoing dialog with our partners – French defense procurement agency DGA and the armed forces – to offer mature, robust and competitive solutions that perfectly meet their operational requirements," says Thierry Dupoux. "Our eRider project must therefore provide concrete inputs, and above all build up the experience that is needed for tomorrow's programs. The current generation of robots is dedicated to specific missions, and most are still remotely controlled.
“Safran is not seeking to replace these products; we are using a complementary approach, inspired by the auto industry, which entails the rational and gradual introduction of autonomy functions. This approach can be applied to any modern transport, intelligence or combat platform."