A Florida-based startup led by a veteran of the Israeli military wants its new product — a drone that’s been modified to be able to carry and fire a weapon like a machine gun — to be more of a presence on the battlefield in coming years so that fewer troops have to be sent into harm’s way.
The startup is Duke Robotics, and it’s been pitching its TIKAD drone to organizations like the Israeli and U.S. militaries, with Duke’s CEO Raziel “Razi” Atuar describing it as a showpiece for the battlefield of the future. The drone can swap between things like a machine gun, a 40mm grenade launcher and laser designating systems, among other things, and a pilot will both fly and pull the weapon’s trigger remotely.
In recent days, the Administration for the Development of Weapons at Israel’s Ministry of Defense gave its stamp of approval to the product, which will be used by the Israel Defense Forces. It’s something of a full-circle moment for the startup, since its leadership includes veterans of the IDF.
Duke’s top execs include chief logistics officer Amir Kadosh, an IDF Special Forces veteran. Chief technology officer Sagiv Aharon has worked in the Israeli aerospace industry.
“We’ve all known each other for more than 20 years,” Atuar told BGR. “I’m a former battalion commander. The idea for Duke started as an operational need, generated from our experience. We see over and over the need to do something different, because the battlefield has changed. It’s not armies going against armies anymore. We don’t see tank divisions against tank divisions. It’s a different time. It’s an asymmetric battlefield.”
The TIKAD drone weight 110 pounds and can fly from an altitude of between 30 and 1,500 feet. The drone includes a rotation support system that allows for six degrees of freedom. It’s also able to stay stationary in flight after the weapon it’s carrying has fired.
Possible use cases Duke suggests for the drone include battlefield search and destroy missions; providing cover for ground troops; backing up troops on border patrol; infrastructure security; counter-terrorism; sniping at high-rise buildings; and more.
As far as the modern battlefield goes, of course, drones will be an increasing part of it — on all sides. Islamic State fighters have been using drones to attack U.S. Special Forces troops in Syria, which is why the Pentagon has just launched a $700 million program that in part will draw on expertise from the armed services as well defense companies like Boeing to counteract that threat.
Duke, naturally, sees abundant opportunity for technology in this field. It’s one reason the company launched a crowdfunding campaign. It announced in August that it’s looking to raise up to $15 million in the offering.
Duke says its robotic stabilization technology enables the TIKAD to absorb the recoil of a weapon, allowing for pinpoint targeting and shooting accuracy. The publication “Defense One” confirmed that the Israeli military is buying a number of the drones from Duke, which has been working with Israeli forces for a few years now. Back in 2015, for example, Israeli forces hit a target with a rifle attached to a one-off drone from Duke, which went on to refine that technology.
“It’s a technical challenge — this wasn’t something that came overnight,” Atuar said. “It took several years, to get to something that can be airborne and deal with that kind of recoil from the weapon. We created a unique robot that allows you to mount almost any kind of weapon system within the limits of its weight.
“Our vision is whenever you hear the name Duke in the future, you associate it with the future soldier. With saving lives. Because in our vision — I would like to send the robot in first. There are many, many scenarios that you can use it to just save lives.”