Safran Electronics & Defence Australasia (SEDA) has outlined its research priorities to a number of academics at the University of Technology, Sydney as part of a national roadshow aimed at increasing the company’s collaboration with Australian academics.
Safran is actively investing in research and development in Australia. The Safran Group has a global R&D spend of €1.5 billion (A$2.52 billion) annually. The French company recently relocated its Australian subsidiary to a new site in Botany, close to Sydney Airport, after it outgrew the capacity of an existing site at Bankstown.
The new facility houses testing and maintenance equipment in 700 square metres of workrooms, including a clean room, a laser test room, climate testing systems, as well as avionics, inertial navigation and optronic test benches. The suite of equipment is also capable of servicing all Safran optronics systems.
In Australia, the company is responsible for optronics, avionics systems and support services on the ADF’s Tiger ARH and MRH-90 helicopters, inertial navigation for the Huon class minehunters and Collins class submarines, as well as Infrared Search and Track systems for the RAN and RNZN and spillover work on French military helicopters. The company is currently pursuing opportunities in Australia for its optronic and navigation systems on major programs including the Attack class submarines.
Safran is now seeking to collaborate with academics on research of emerging technologies at low TRL in a number of key areas that highlight operational challenges the ADF will face over the next decade. These include multi-function sensors and sensor fusion technologies to meet the growing demand from information-hungry Next Gen platforms, autonomous systems research relevant to both manned and unmanned platforms, ‘collaborative robots’ (cobots) and exoskeletons.
Safran R&D Program Manager Andrew Hunt explained during the briefing that the main challenge regarding collaborative autonomy is moving beyond autonomous mobility for a single platform to autonomous agent architectures and artificial intelligence that can support collaborative operational action. In other words, collaboration between different classes of robot and also between soldiers and robots. Problems of environmental perception in complex or hostile environments, prediction, optimisation and manoeuvre control problems are still challenges, but good headway has already been made.
A number of avenues for research centre on making use of the vision systems Safran supplies for helicopters to create a higher level of understanding of the proximate environment (free space, obstacles, etc) and with this, enable enhanced manoeuvrability during degraded visual conditions (at night, during dust storms, etc) or terrain aided navigation for operation in GNSS denied environments. Finally, by extension there is potential for automation of collaborative or emergency manoeuvres.
Many of Safran’s research priorities are into technologies that can operate in operational scenarios with little to no access to global navigation satellite systems (GNSS). Shorter term options could include hybrid vision and inertial based navigation systems to provide position, navigation and timing capabilities. Longer term options might include the use of quantum technology.
According to Hunt, the overarching theme for Safran’s research in Australia is about enabling autonomy and intelligence in everything, from sensor to system.