Weaponized drones aren’t new. The US military, and more recently that of other countries, have been using large, expensive, missile-equipped models for remote strikes for many years. But lightweight drones have been limited by the amount of gimbal required to deal with recoil, and the weight of a weapon plus ammunition. Startup Duke Robotics says it is changing all that. Its TIKAD system combines a remote-control weapon system with a purpose-built, eight-rotor drone. The combination is designed to be operated with a slick-looking, ruggedized tablet from a remote location.
TIKAD: Born From a Need for Better Asymmetric Warfare Tools
The founders of Duke Robotics had decades of experience in the Israeli Defense Forces, and were involved in many troop-intensive campaigns to hunt down terrorists in civilian areas. They became focused on the possibility of reducing or eliminating the casualties among their own troops in that situation, and decided weaponized drones offered the best option. Its first efforts used an off-the-shelf drone, but subsequently they have developed their own model that uses a system of interlocking plates to gimbal up to 22 pounds of payload and allows accurate automatic firing.
From reading what the company has published, there doesn’t seem to have been nearly as much attention paid to reducing collateral damage or civilian casualties. I expect that to become a very large point of contention when any of these systems are actually deployed — just like civilian casualties from US drone strikes are already quite a controversial subject. In particular, as I can attest from flying my own drones, viewing the world from a tablet connected to a single camera doesn’t provide anywhere near the situational awareness of actually being there.
Up until now Duke has operated on a shoestring budget of bank loans and preliminary orders from the IDF. To bring TIKAD to market, it’s looking to raise $ 15 million through a crowd-funded equity drive. Anyone with $ 450 or more to shell out can get in on the action. There are rules about how openly the company can tout the stock itself, but clearly this stylish TIKAD launch video is aimed more at potential small investors than possible customers:
If you do find yourself toying with the idea of investing, make sure and read the 53-page disclosure document, as there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical.
Developing TIKAD: Shockingly Easy
The Duke Robotics founders have impressive backgrounds, and are clearly dedicated and talented. But with just a couple years of development, and a few engineers, they have created a machine-gun-carrying drone that is apparently suitable for the battlefield. If they could do it, is there any doubt the feat can be recreated by almost any country or sufficiently-well-funded organization? Especially the kind that would be happy to read the company’s patents and ignore intellectual property rights. There is a particularly worrisome statement in the company’s offering document, where it explains that “minimal prior training is required in order to operate the robot.”
So far, the use of non-military drones as weapons has required them to physically reach their target to drop an explosive, meaning there’s a good opportunity to shoot them down first. With the addition of a stand-off weapons capability, the challenge of protecting sites and people is going to be that much harder.