Home NewsBusiness News Israel’s Autonomous Urban Quadcopter Brings ‘Search & Attack In One’

Israel’s Autonomous Urban Quadcopter Brings ‘Search & Attack In One’

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Israel’s Autonomous Urban Quadcopter Brings ‘Search & Attack In One’


Trapped by enemy fire from all directions in urban combat, an infantry unit calls for Lanius – and a swarm of drones appears, entering the surrounding building to find and eliminate the enemy firing positions. This is the scenario Israeli contractor Elbit Systems uses to illustrate the power of their new swarming drones in a new video.

Last month we revealed details Elbit’s Legion-X system, an intelligent software framework allowing various types of robotic ground vehicles and drones to operate together in close conjunction with foot soldiers. At the time the company teased the existence of a multicopter ‘mothership’ able to release several small quadcopters, and details are revealed in the new video.

Lanius is described as a ‘drone-based loitering munition’ and carrying lethal or nonlethal payloads. While we have already seen first-person viewpoint racing drones carrying explosives to attack targets inside buildings in Ukraine, what distinguishes Lanius is just how smart it is. The drones use a technique of simultaneous location and mapping (SLAM) in which they construct a 3D map of their surroundings as they pass through, giving a detailed layout of a building or underground complex. This is enabled by an NVDIA Jetson TX2 processor, part of a new generation of supercomputer-on-a-module hardware optimized for mobile artificial intelligence.

This capability means multiple Lanius drones can be deployed without taking operators out of the fight to control them. The drones navigate and find their way autonomously, building up a map as they go.

According to the makers, not only can Lanius find entry and exit points such as windows and doorways using video analytics it can also identify combatant and non-combatant personnel among the occupants, and is capable of ‘threat classification’ as well as identifying other features of interest such as weapons. (Clearly, this raises a lot of questions about how reliable it is). The drone requires operator approval before detonating its payload, seen several times in the video as a big green button; the makers are keen to note that this is an operator-in-the-loop weapon rather than an autonomous ‘killer robot.’ An upgrade to full autonomous mode would just be a small software change though.

Lanius is based on a racing model, as these provide maximum agility and maneuverability in tight indoor spaces. It has a top speed of 45 mph. The big limitation, as expected, is the flight time, which is given as seven minutes. This is why the loitering munitions are brought into action by the larger ‘mothership’, No details are given of this, but judging from the video it is similar to large commercial models (or Ukraine’s R18 bomber) which typically have a payload of several kilos and a flight time of 45 minutes or more.

The mothership in the video appears to carry three Lanius loitering munitions. These weigh 1.5 kilos each, and carry a payload of 150 grams or around five ounces. This is less than the Vog-17 grenade widely used for drone-bombing by Ukraine, but the Lanius appears to be intended for much close-range use. The shape of the drone also suggests that the warhead may be highly directional, effectively a miniature claymore mine.

Lanius is also shown being launched by hand; a lightweight weapon able to carry out precision indirect attacks from several hundred meters away, and which can also be controlled directly like a normal loitering ammunition, is well worth the weight for most foot soldiers.

The video shows Lanius using ‘ambush mode’: it can land on the ground in front of a closed door or other ambush point, conserving battery while waiting for a target to appear. If adversaries barricade themselves in a building, they are likely to find loitering munitions still waiting for them when they come out.

As with the rest of the Legion-X suite, the most impressive feature of Lanius is that it exists here and now, and may already be in use with Israeli forces. The IDF has always been a leader in drone technology, and was the first to use swarming drones in action. They may also be the first to use this type of attack quadcopter.

Lanius promised ‘search and attack in one.’ Clearly it has limitations, and drones are not about to replace infantry. But in terms of locating, identifying and engaging an enemy behind cover in urban terrain, Lanius looks like a huge step forward. As well as being a step towards the day that human soldiers are all in the second line behind a wall or armed robots of different shapes and sizes.

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