French dronemaker Parrot has spent much of its existence in the shadow of DJI, the successful Chinese maker of a range of popular quadcopters that include the Mavic range, alongside more advanced offerings such as the Inspire 2.
The Paris-based company has been given a boost, however, after being selected by the United States Department of Defense as one of six companies to develop small, short-range reconnaissance aircraft for use by soldiers on the battlefield. The others are Skydio, Altavian, Teal Drones, Vantage Robotics, and Lumenier, all of which are based in the U.S.
An $11 million fund will be shared among the companies to help them prototype their own individual drones to provide soldiers with an effective way of gaining situational awareness on the battlefield, beyond the line of sight.
According to the contract’s guidelines, the final drone design should be able to fly for 30 minutes on a single charge and have a range of up to 1.86 miles (3 km). Importantly, the remotely controlled drones should weigh no more than three pounds, take less than two minutes to assemble, and fit inside a soldier’s standard-issue backpack.
While the funds will certainly be useful for helping to develop the machines, it seems Parrot already has an aircraft pretty much ready to go with its 2018 Anafi quadcopter. Besides offering 4K video and 21-megapixel stills, the Anafi can fly for 25 minutes on a single charge and has a range of more than 2 miles. It folds away into a small case, too, and weighs just 0.71 pounds. The company recently released a version sporting a thermal-imaging camera, a feature that would certainly come in useful on the battlefield.
Commenting on the contract, Henri Seydoux, founder and CEO of Parrot, said in a release: “The United States has always been a major market for the Parrot Group whether it is for our well-known consumer range or our advanced professional offering.”
Seydoux said his company has been “at the forefront” of creating advanced, easy to use, and reliable compact drones, adding that his team is looking forward to “focusing our advanced R&D on meeting the high standards set by the U.S. Army, to integrate drone efficiency in their day to day operations, and support the world-leading army defense system.”
Despite DJI’s huge success in the global drone market, the company has missed out on being chosen likely because of increasing trade tensions between the U.S. and China, as well as security fears over the use of Chinese technology, evidenced by the U.S. government’s ongoing action against Chinese tech giants such as Huawei.