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Austrian heli-robots protect Arabian borders

Foreign governments are getting very enthusiastic about Austrian hi-tech: pilotless, self-steering helicopters, developed by a Viennese company, are becoming a winner for dangerous and difficult surveillance jobs. A "red-white-red" story of success.

Border Patrol of the United Arab Emirates: One of 80 Camcopter heli-robots of the Schiebel company
Picture by Schiebel

The United Arab Emirates will soon be under "Austrian aerial surveillance": At a price per unit of more than one million Euros, Khalifa II., sheik of Abu Dhabi, ordered 80, 3 metres long, mini-helicopters of the Viennese Schiebel company, which was mainly known for its mine-detectors, so far.

These "Camcopters" are able to fly 5500 metres high, and, for a time of 6 hours, 220 km/h fast. They can bear a maximum weight of 100 kilograms. But the real special treat about them is, that they don't need a pilot or telecontrol for this. The mini-helicopters only need to be fed with the key data of the target area. The rest – take-off, landing and the adherence to no-fly zones – is done by the clever heli-robot itself.

Target areas can be entered and changed via this console
Picture by Schiebel

Such, militarily spoken, autonomous, and therefore free of risk "drones" are well known from the US-Army in the form of mini-planes, used for spying purposes. But there are hardly any of these aircrafts that are able to take-off and land vertically without a runway – even from moving ships.

Sheik Khalifa is going to fit his 80 heli-drones with high resolution 20-kilo-cameras, and let them patrol along the difficult to overlook borders to the neighbouring Emirates, being located in the desert. Then you only need a special software which detects unknown objects and an employee in front of a monitor in the headquarter can raise an alarm.

Hans Georg Schiebel, principal of the firm, and his team have apparently proven the right "high tech touch": They let not only enhance an old Wankel engine of the meanwhile crashed British motorbike forge Norton, to a compact, almost vibration-free top power plant with 55 hp, they also got hold of several international designer awards for the rakish optics of their "Camcopters". Schiebel even obtained a place in the permanent exhibition of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Hans Georg Schiebel – son of the Viennese founder of the company – with one of his Camcopters
Picture by T. Micke

At the moment the Vienna based company is working on an admission to civilian aviation where besides the blasting of avalanches and disaster operations especially the surveillance of oil pipelines would be very interesting, because losings in consequence of damaged pipelines add up to several million Euros per year. Compared with human search parties the cost-saving heli-robots could easily detect those leaks using special cameras.

But also other unconventional utilisations of the Austrian drones seem to be possible. When signing the contract Sheik Khalifa II asked Hans Georg Schiebel in joke if it would also be possible to fully-automatically bring his numerous children to school by using the helicopters...

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© A report by Tobias Micke (05-02-06) – Contact