Rugged Ultrasonic Wind Sensors for Military and Defense

Interview with FT Technologies: Developing the World’s Toughest Wind Sensors

FT Technologies speaks to Defense Advancement about the manufacture of the World’s Toughest Wind Sensors; how and why this ruggedized technology is being integrated into military drone platforms Feature Article with Gordon Bease, Director of North American Operations at FT Technologies
Interview with FT Technologies: Developing the World’s Toughest Wind Sensors
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Hi Gordon, thank you for your time today. In your position as FT Technologies’ Director of North American Operations, you were previously interviewed regarding the civilian drone market. What makes the military/defense drone market different?

Well, I recently attended my first drone conference of 2024 – the Vertical Flight Society’s Transformational Vertical Flight Conference, and it struck me that the enormous amount of activity in the civilian market is being confounded by a confluence of hurdles. That conference deals with the larger heavy lift drones – air taxis and air cargo, known by their acronyms AAM and UAM. For example, there’s lack of infrastructure such as vertiports, there are regulations which are quite rightly in place to restrict movement in Federal air space, there’s insurance requirements, and in general it is estimated to cost around $1B to produce a certified AAM platform.

Not everyone has enough funding, so some of the smaller, less funded companies won’t make it to certification and service. In fact, according to one presenter, even some of the larger more advanced companies are burning through their cash and will need extra investment to cross the finish line. I mean, the technology itself is capable of doing what it is designed to do – lift heavy loads, and there are so many innovative designs each with their own advantages – but everything else needs to fall into place, including a proper UTM (Unmanned Traffic Management) system and also 99% of the world does not have weather reporting under 5000ft – that’s a big problem for drone operations. Then you throw into the mix that the majority of the AAM manufacturers won’t be ready to certify until 2028, and you can see that it’s optimistic to expect public AAM services by 2030.

On the military side of things, there’s less focus on regulations when you are flying over a battlefield. The AAM platform is an enabling technology, allowing for transportation of equipment, wounded soldiers etc. So I expect that this market will develop far quicker than the civilian market. Though the infrastructure requirements are completely different, the platform technology will be largely similar.

Can you explain a little more about your involvement in the defense industry and how long you have been operating in this sector?

FT205 Meteorological sensor for UAVs and drones

FT Technologies was operating in the defense industry even prior to producing our wind sensor products. In fact, the wind sensor came about due to a request from the MoD for a battleground-capable product, with no moving parts and the ability to work in the harsh environment of the battlefield, going over rough terrain etc. So, our Chairman invented the Acoustic Resonance technology, which is inherently immune to vibration and external acoustic noise, and extremely reliable.

Our wind sensors are being used in critical military applications such as CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear) stations, hostile artillery location and most recently on RWS (Remote Weapon Stations) where their industrial quality and high data availabilities in all environmental conditions is required. Now, we see the opportunity in the emerging drone market.

What are the key challenges typically faced within the defense sector that your combat-rugged ultrasonic wind sensors address?

You can imagine that the sensors are going to expect a lot of rough handling, and also exposure to conditions that might easily break other wind sensors. Our Acoustic Resonance technology allows us to produce a very accurate wind sensor in a small physical package. I could describe our sensors as having a small collision cross section, which is a fancy way of saying that they are less likely to get hit by flying debris. But our sensors are also housed in anodized aluminium which is a very strong material which does not lose its strength over time.

Even if they get physically struck, there is a good likelihood of survival and continued operation. They have no moving parts and no protrusions which could otherwise be broken-off. Each sensor is individually calibrated in a wind tunnel before dispatch to our customers – and they don’t need recalibration for the life of the sensor. The military market is very keen on what they call SWaP – Size, Weight and Power optimization. Our products tick all of these boxes.

Can you tell us more about the use of your technology within Counter-UAS?

Yes – as well as our products being integrated into drone platforms, our sensors are also being used to effectively and efficiently incapacitate drones. This is an extension of the RWS application.

Our sensors placed at the muzzle of the gun or cannon, greatly improve the ballistics accuracy. One of our customers, Electro Optic Systems of Australia, has developed a product called Slinger. This approach allows lower-cost ammunition to be used to shoot down smaller, cheaper drones at a large distance.

The economics of this approach are much easier to justify, and our wind sensor is an enabling component on their platform, allowing for lower-cost ammunition to be used.

So how are your sensors being used on drones in the military market?

FT743-D-SM Wind Sensor for Drones

FT743-D-SM Wind Sensor for Drones

We have been working with some of the AAM manufacturers who are designing the platforms I alluded to earlier for military and battlefield use. Those types of drones will need to be able to land/take off from virtually any piece of ground – they will not have the luxury of choosing to land at a nice safe vertiport as in the civilian market.

Therefore, it will be necessary to transport some of that vertiport infrastructure with you in the drone – for example, imagine our wind sensor on the drone platform being used to monitor cross winds and to determine if it’s safe to land or take off at a certain location.

There’s going to be a move towards autonomy, so these drones will not have pilots, and will lack the situational awareness a pilot brings – our sensors can provide some of those critical observations.

Also, on a battlefield, there is likely to be a lot of jamming of signals that control drones. One particular concern within the military is loss of GNSS or GPS location services. The drone can effectively be “lost” during a GPS-denied episode, meaning that its true location is unknown. This has all kinds of negative consequences of course.

We are working with Inertial Labs which has proven that pairing our wind sensor with their INS products will result in a 10x improvement in navigation performance when there is a GPS-denied incident. That would allow the drone flight to continue through dead-reckoning or reliably return to its last-known location.

What plans do you have within the defense sector in 2024 and beyond?

In general, we plan to continue our crusade of brand awareness and the promotion of our unique and exclusive Acoustic Resonance technology, Acu-Res®, as being superior to our competitors’ technologies in this large market.

Speaking specifically about drones, there are so many innovations going on right now, but where our technology will prove to be fundamental is in the areas of situational awareness and GPS/GNSS-denied applications. That way, we will be able to use our products to help protect these expensive large drone platforms and help them get back to base unharmed.

Thank-you so much for your time Gordon, it has been a pleasure discussing this with you and we look forward to seeing the continued rise of FT Technologies combat-rugged ultrasonic wind sensors integrated within military technologies.

FT Technologies will be at XPONENTIAL 2024 in San Diego, meet the team at Booth #5515

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